Embracing a Brace of Women on Violin
When you think of the violin,
it’s usually in terms of something classical, something
staid— even to the point of being stodgy—melodious,
though somewhat somber, and often evocative of a lament in
the key of bittersweet. For me, something along the lines
of “Ashokan Farewell” by Jay Unger from the hit
1990 PBS mini-series “The Civil War,” readily
comes to mind. (Was that 25 years ago already?). All in all,
a beautiful instrument to behold, especially when beheld by
a virtuoso who can make even an Alpha male weep.
On the other end of the scale,
associations might be in the context of bluegrass or hoe down
music, and at such times, thought of as a fiddle. Is there
a difference between a violin and a fiddle? Not really, though
it is a subject open to much discussion, debate and lots of
wry commentary. A few one-liners I ran across on line …
When you are buying one, it’s a fiddle. When you
are selling one, it’s a violin.
.• $125 per
hour and a tuxedo.
.• You can’t
play a violin barefoot.
.• A violin
has strings, and a fiddle has strangs.
never find a violinist with a mullet.
A violin sings, but a fiddle dances.
a matter of style. If you have style, it’s a fiddle.
And the people playing it? We tend to think
male, with hall-of-fame names like Isaac Stern, Jascha Heifetz,
Yehudi Menuhin and Itzak Perlman. In short, we think of violin
players (though not fiddlers), as being of rather serious
temperament and often rooted in European and “foreign”
traditions. What you might call your father’s or grandfather’s
violinists. That has changed.
Nowhere is that more in evidence for me, than
with two violinists on the New York scene these days, who
are turning the instrument and their performance on it, into
something that shatters the glass of any stereotypes and preconceived
No, Deni Bonet and Annette Homann
are not your father’s fiddlers.
As one music critic noted on a new generation of violinists
in this mold, “they are on the whole, female, ultra-virtuosic,
career-focused and glamorous besides.” To which I would
add specific to these two women, possessing a sense of total
performance—including everything from the addition of
body movement and choreography, to their banter in between
pieces—wit, irony, and sexy besides.
Deni Bonet is a classically trained violinist, whose rather
impressive “liner notes” from her website read:
She has recorded and performed with
Cyndi Lauper, R.E.M., Sarah McLachlan among many others…
…performed at Carnegie Hall, the United Nations, and
just recently at the White House for President Obama and
the First Lady…
Her music has been featured on HBO, NBC, American Airlines,
several film and modern dance projects, and has been described
by the Wall Street Journal as “like Cheryl Crow meets
Her unique style is fully on display in a
video produced for her single One in a Million, that
was released along with her latest album It’s All
I caught her at a gig at the Rockwood Music Hall in downtown
Manhattan last month, in a night paying homage to “The
Musical History of the Lower East Side.” Deni made even
a Stephen Foster medley sound hip. And I had the pleasure
over a year ago, of performing a spoken word piece in tandem
with arrangements she composed and played specific to a collaboration
entitled “Unrequited Love.”
Annette Homann, born in Germany and also classically
trained, has been performing since the age of six and has
toured throughout Europe, China, Central America, Canada and
the U.S. And as further noted on her site…
… at various venues including
Carnegie Hall, Avery Fischer Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Symphony
Space, New World Stages, and Brooklyn Bowl…
…her extended techniques, and singing combining elements
of bluegrass, blues, pop and classical with a theatrical
vibe—the violin used in non-traditional ways, often
replacing the guitar, and sometimes percussion—are
in evidence on her recent CD, “Heimatgefühle”
(German for “feelings of home”).
I got to see her live last month at a private
art gallery event in Chelsea. Her performance in covering
Adele’s Skyfall, the theme song of the 2012
James Bond film of the same name, was at once both sexy and
witty (and barefoot, defying a previously noted one-liner).
It brought down the house.
And while I have not caught a live performance
of so called “hip-hop” violinist Lindsey Stirling,
whose Crystallize video on YouTube has gotten
an unfathomable 119,000,000 views since uploaded in February
of 2012 (is that a misprint?), Deni and Annette are every
bit as good and dynamic in my book. (And Muse-Letter).
And does Lindsey Stirling drop by McSorely’s Old Ale
House on a rainy spring afternoon, take out her violin in
the backroom and play? Annette has.
I wonder what Itsak Perlman thinks about all of this sort
Quote of the Month
Sinatra Has A Cold
In writing about Sinatra:
American Icon at Lincoln Center Library for the Performing
Arts last month, I noted that there would be other retrospectives
on Sinatra as the year went on. I also mentioned that if one
wanted to get a full view of Frank, warts and all, this exhibition
was not the place.
Sure enough, in less than a couple of weeks after the opening
of “American Icon,” HBO offered a four
hour documentary that did flesh out that Sinatra—wives
and all. A frank viewing of a Frank less saintly. A Frank
who could be petulant and given to anger at the drop of a
fedora. Which triggered a remembrance of Sinatra Has a
Cold— a 15,000 word piece written by Gay Talese
for Esquire magazine almost fifty years ago—
that did a similar thing. At the time, Sinatra was on the
brink of turning fifty. I have that original April 1966 issue
(remnants of an old magazine collection), and went back to
re-read it. It was as riveting as I had remembered.
And why shouldn’t it be? It was hailed
in literary circles, and “became one of the most celebrated
magazine stories ever published, a pioneering example of what
came to be called ‘New Journalism’—a work
of rigorously faithful fact enlivened with the kind of vivid
storytelling that had previously been reserved for fiction.”
“New Journalism” was coined by
Tom Wolf who was considered to be the father of this genre.
Though it had other practitioners, who in addition to Talese,
would include most famously Norman Mailer (Armies of the
Night, The Executioner's Song), Truman Capote (In
Cold Blood), Joan Didion (Slouching Towards Bethlehem),
Joe McGinnis (The Selling of the President 1968),
Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A
Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream) and
When Talese went to LA to do that Sinatra
profile for Esquire, Old Blue Eyes was unwilling
to be interviewed. Instead, Talese wound up speaking to over
100 people who knew Sinatra in various capacities and through
various associations. Coupled with his own observations of
the dynamics between Frank and his extended entourage…
voila! Talese produced a New Journalism masterpiece.
He had me at the first sentence:
SINATRA, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand
and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of
the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat
waiting for him to say something.
And after deez following coupla’ paragraphs,
was worried about his starring role in an hour-long NBC
show entitled Sinatra -- A Man and His Music,
which would require that he sing eighteen songs with a voice
that at this particular moment, just a few nights before
the taping was to begin, was weak and sore and uncertain.
Sinatra was ill. He was the victim of an ailment so common
that most people would consider it trivial. But when it
gets to Sinatra it can plunge him into a state of anguish,
deep depression, panic, even rage. Frank Sinatra had a cold.
with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel
-- only worse. For the common cold robs Sinatra of that
uninsurable jewel, his voice, cutting into the core of his
confidence, and it affects not only his own psyche but also
seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic nasal drip within
dozens of people who work for him, drink with him, love
him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability.
A Sinatra with a cold can, in a small way, send vibrations
through the entertainment
industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United
States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy.
And an ending that is sublime in tying up
no loose ends, but leaving it to reader interpretation, much
in the way that a poem might:
Sinatra stopped his car. The light was red. Pedestrians
passed quickly across his windshield but, as usual, one
did not. It was a girl in her twenties. She remained at
the curb staring at him. Through the corner of his left
eye he could see her, and he knew, because it happens almost
every day, that she was thinking, It looks like him, but
before the light turned green, Sinatra turned toward her,
looked directly into her eyes waiting for the reaction he
knew would come. It came and he smiled. She smiled and he
in search of another side of Sinatra, I rediscover instead,
another side of what makes for great writing. And in the process,
am reminded of another Italian-American-local-boy-makes-good
story. Also a guy from Jersey, though Ocean City not Hoboken.
Vanity Fair did a piece on Talese last year.
By no means anything resembling New Journalism, it was simply
titled “What You Should Know About Gay Talese.”
It’s brief and more or less focuses on his current life
style at age 83. “Casual Fridays are an unfathomable
concept to him: ‘I don’t own a pair of blue jeans.
Even when I’m working I wear a jacket and tie.’”
And presumably, if he had a cold, there would
be no great implications.
When the flight is over
the six hours up
the quirky quilt
of land traversed
East to West—
a crayon tracing
of the sun—
First Class and Coach
are enjoined as one.
at a horseless carrousel
stand awaiting the outcome;
a death by infinity.
A place where baggage mingle
and name tags dangle
from leather handles
and big toes.
A Gala Preview for the New Whitney
With much fanfare and anticipation,
the Whitney Museum hosted a gala preview on the night
of April 24th, to celebrate its move from the dark-stone monolithic
Breuer Building at a rather stodgy 75th and Madison Avenue
address, to a light infused architectural splendor in the
vibrant Meatpacking District, adjacent to the High Line and
Hudson River. (“Location! Location! Location!”).
The evening had all the vibes of an Oscar red carpet event,
as we were swept away upon entering into a photo op area,
where a Paparazzi-like frenzy ensued. With their cameras incessantly
clicking and stopping us from moving along as they requested
still a few more shots (no Brain Williams exaggeration), I
wanted to say, “guys, we are nobody.” But I was
rudely interrupted by my ego. Oh the hardships a museum goer
sometimes has to endure for the sake of art appreciation.
And what would one have done on this crowded night without
those flutes of champagne doled out for sustenance?
Though the place reopens with a broad retrospective of American
art under the title America Is Hard to See—
culled from its extensive collection which was often kept
under wraps in Whitney’s past for lack of sufficient
space—the throngs that have gathered on this night,
are really here to check out the newest creation by superstar
architect Lorenzo Piano.
With an inclination towards excessive punning, and to cut
to the proverbial chase, I’m inclined to say Piano has
hit all the right keys. It really was his night. America
Is Hard to See can wait another day for casual scrutiny,
though two iconic Whitney pieces did shine through all the
hoopla in their new brighter environs: Hopper’s Early
Sunday Morning and Calder’s multi-material sculpture,
There are, and will be, many articles detailing Piano’s
design for this museum so I won’t dwell on them here.
Of course, Lorenzo Piano (a name in itself with all its own
artistic flair), has become especially known for his museum
commissions what with 25 such, including 14 in the U.S. alone.
His most famous, a collaboration with a former partner, being
the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (1977).
Regarding the Whitney, Architectural Digest called
it “…a game changer for the museum, providing
the large adaptable interiors… it had craved with roughly
twice the exhibition space of the Breuer building and more
than 200,000 square feet in total…” and went on
to refer to his reputation “…for conjuring flexible
light-filled spaces that offer ideal conditions for exhibiting
Light-filled indeed. At certain seasons and
times of day, one will need sunglasses when coming here. Set
right off the Hudson River— in itself intended to be
a piece of transformative art, as evidenced by couches set
before it for comfortable viewing through a large expanse
of wall-to-wall glass—the sun was at times blinding.
As it also could be on outer terraces on several floors, designed
for New York cityscape viewing. In time, I suppose window
shades will have to be drawn. Though as a bonus on this night
when the sun did go down, the Empire State Building was alit
with the Yankees-Mets colors, as they were beginning their
One is reminded of how much a museum structure can (and should)
be an extension of the total art-going experience. You also
see and feel that same sort of thing at the Getty in LA; one
that begins from the moment you begin that slow silent ascent
via a train coasting on a cushion of air, to the top of a
mountain where it majestically sits. Having been there also
on opening day in ‘97, and returning on various occasions
thereafter, it has long since become better known for its
architecture (by Richard Meier), gardens and views overlooking
Los Angeles, than the art housed within.
The Whitney has been considered a “fourth-place
destination” for New York museum-going, ranking behind
the Met, MoMA and the Guggenheim.
And all gala preview night giddiness aside, that is not likely
to change. But one is also reminded of that catch phrase born
of the film Field of Dreams, “If you build
it they will come.” And through the imagination of Lorenzo
Piano, the Whitney has built it. And they will come.
And in a spirit and a mindset, that had not been associated
with this institution before.