Hurricane Sandy has local forecasters getting on their foul-weather faces and rolling out their bold-faced fonts, although there's still no telling exactly which way the storm will go early next week. Normally I'm loathe to fall under the spell of publicists who try to tie their arts events to such things - storms, the Red Sox, whatever. (Isabella Stewart Gardner liked going to Fenway, we get it, now give it a rest.) But the New England Philharmonic opens its season this saturday with - wait for it - "Atmospherics." The 8 p.m. at Tsai Performance Center program will focus on composer in residence David Rakowski's fourth symphony - wait for it! - Scare Quotes. Our local forecasters are not involved, but each movement in the symphony use titles taken from The Weather Channel website: Waning Crescent, Current Conditions, Ice to Rain and finally, Double Shot. Each movement "quotes" musical themes from pieces by other composers, including Bach, Mahler and Oliver Nelson with his jazz standard "Stolen Moments." Tickets, $25, at www.nephilharmonic.org. On the (literally) bright side, the program also includes Thea Musgrave's "Rainbow."
You have ten days to get over to the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester and see Marsden Hartley: Soliloquy in Dogtown, an exhibition of the great American painter's depiction of one of the stranger places in Massachusetts. If you don't know about Dogtown, an abandoned settlement on high ground in the center of Cape Ann, start with Wikipedia and then move on to Elyssa East's book. East was captivated by Hartley's paintings and drawings, which he made during two separate stays in Gloucester in 1931 and '34. You will be too.
The Cape Ann owns some of the works and borrowed others for an exhibition in 1985, when community leaders were gearing up to save Dogtown after its problems were brought to the fore by a murder that is the centerpiece of East's book. Now more than 3,000 acres are protected as conservation land and offer a relatively safe place for hikers and bikers and birdwatchers, although the place still retains its unique spookiness. And the museum has mounted a slightly larger version of the exhibit, which ends Oct. 14. It only takes up one room, but it feels more expansive.
Soliloquoy in Dogtown features a dozen drawings but it is the paintings that are striking. Hartley's flattened perspectives and blunted shapes somehow embody the skewed feeling of the place. The colors are similar from painting to painting, somehow both vivid and unsettling, greens and greys and browns dominating under a blue sky with white clouds. The exception is the brilliant canvas simply titled "Dogtown," alive with autumn red and gold. This is one of those paintings that you'll want to absorb for a while.
The exhibit also includes a portrait of Hartley by Helen Stein and a variety of Dogtown memorabilia that should further whet your appetite for the real thing. Dogtown was largely open in Hartley's day, but is no less individual now for the scrub woods that have grown up. It's less than ten minutes from the museum by car, and there are maps at the trail head. But it's still easy to get lost there.
Image: Marsden Hartley (1877-1943). Summer Outward Bound, Gloucester, 1931. Oil on board. Gift of the estate of Robert L. French, 2009. Courtesy of Cape Ann Museum.
Saturday brings the autumnal equinox, which means it's time for music, poetry and communal singing at the 9th annual Revels RiverSing at the Charles River. Revels music director George Emlen hosts the free outdoor celebration featuring over 100 chorus members, the Revels Children’s Chorus, musician David Coffin, the Second Line Pleasure Aid and Social Society Brass Band, sax man Stan Strickland on the river (right) and more. Did we mention it's free? There will be groups sings of about 20 folk songs (lyrics available onsite and at www.revels.org). Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s Steve Barkhimer and Jennie Israel and Cambridgepoet Toni Bee will recite. The main event is at 6 p.m., but festivities begin at 5 with family fun in Harvard Square's Winthrop Park, followed by a procession to the river. This is fun for anyone who likes music and ritual, and those with an anthropological interest in Cambridge's unique culture.
Many TV shows kick off a pop culture meme or two, and a brilliant few invade your dreams. "Breaking Bad" invaded reality a couple of weeks ago, as Alabama authorities put an alleged meth cook named Walter White on their most-wanted list. That the arrest of a real-life Walter seemed unsurprising was an interesting data point in understanding just how much this AMC drama about a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher turned badass meth kingpin has gotten under my skin. So it's going to be a bear waiting until next summer for the show's final eight episodes. (SPOILERS AHEAD!)
The 2012 finale on Sunday night ended with a classic "Breaking Bad" moment. Walter (the amazing Bryan Cranston) hosted a family party a few days after he told his wife he was out of the meth biz. The unspoken theme was a return to normalcy. But then Walter's DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank, sat down for a little bathroom reading and picked up a volume of Walt (!) Whitman. Inside he found a hand-written inscription that made his jaw drop to match his pants, linking Walter to a murdered meth chemist. I worried Hank was going to have a stroke right there on the can as he faced the absurd truth that he has subconsciously suspected for a long time: Suburban milquetoast Walter has a double life as the evil Heisenberg! Walt is Heisenberg!
DEA agent brother-in-law? Whitman? Toilet? Heisenberg? What? All this may sound like gibberish to the non-fan, but we are so far down the rabbit hole with this show that it's way too late to bring newcomers up to, ahem, speed. Suffice to say that the moment's ruthless plotting, painfully mundane setting, literary touches and wonderful acting (by Dean Norris as Hank) were all expressions of what makes this show great.
A few weeks back I wrote a Globe column about New Exhibition Room's "Zombie Double Feature," a darkly comic summer extravaganza of two gore-soaked zombie plays ("Terror at BPT" and "Last Night Cabaret") at Boston Playwrights' Theatre. One of the rotating lineup of musicians in the show was among those left homeless by the fire, and apparently several other artists of various stripes with ties to the troupe are also among the victims. There's a Facebook page for those who want to help them.
But all in-person ticket sales to tonight's 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. "Zombie Double Feature" performances will be donated to the cause, and the zombies will be taking up a collection as well. More details here.
Pictured: Omar Robinson and Greer Rooney with Baby Zombie in "Terror at BPT." Photo courtesy New Exhibtion Room.
September shapes up as an interesting musical month around town. Some 24 acts have signed on for the second annual FREE Jamaica Plain Music Festival at Pinebank Field on Saturday, Sept. 8th, from noon to 7 p.m. Boston rock stalwart and co-organizer of the festival Rick Berlin is on the bill fronting the Nickel & Dime Band, but the lineup on two stages is so diverse as to defy representative sampling. I'll try anyway: Mariachi Mexamerica meets the Jamaica Plain Symphony Orchestra meets Lovewhip meets the Whiskey Boys. And many more.
Meanwhile, Berklee College of Music is gearing up for Inspired By Ray: the Ray Charles Symposium, Sept. 21-23, celebrating the genius and influence of the singer-pianist-arranger-composer-bandleader and all around happening man. Presented by Berklee's American Roots Music Program, the event will include academic discussion of Charles's astonishingly diverse output. Charles made everything from country to jazz to rock gospel to to soul his own, and let's not forget "America The Beautiful," either.
There is, of course, a concert involved. inspiRAYtion: A Tribute to Ray Charles is set for Saturday, Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. at the Berklee Performance Center, with an appropriately diverse lineup including Ricky Skaggs, John Scofield, Raul Midon and Charles's former music director Victor Vanacore, among many. I am told a few Raeletts will also be performing: Tonette McKinney, Renee Georges, and Katrina Harper. Tickets, $15-$35, are available here. Or for $100, you can sign on for the symposium and the conference here.
Ray Charles photo by Alan Light used under a Creative Commons license.
Usually the Boston premiere of a Sarah Ruhl play would come from one of our city's established troupes, but this month's "Passion Play" is the work of the Newton-based Circuit Theatre Company, made up of theater students from colleges around the country. “Passion Play” tells the story of three communities producing the Passion: one in Elizabethan England, one in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power, and one in South Dakota in recent years.
My favorite part is that a single actress portrays Queen Elizabeth, Hitler, and Ronald Reagan. But others may be more intrigued to learn that the cast of 12 will play and sing all of the music and create all of the sound effects for the piece live on stage, which they say is the first time that's been done.
Students from schools like Brown and Johns Hopkins are in the group, as well as a few local high schoolers. This is their third summer, but their first production outside of their base in Newton. The show actually premiered over the weekend at the Davis Square Theatre.
Tickets are $15 for performances tonight through Friday at the YMCA Theatre in Cambridge's Central Square and Aug. 10-11 (the latter a matinee) at the Old South Church’s Gordon Chapel. Prices are $12/$18 for the closing performance, which is at Oberon in Harvard Square on Aug. 12. Tickets and info at www.passionplayboston.com.
Executives of WGBH and Public Radio International say all the right things in this morning's Globe story. That PRI will remain independent after its acquisition by WGBH. That the deal won't affect PRI's distribution deal with WGBH's crosstown nemesis, WBUR. But c'mon. Despite the genteel face everyone likes to put on things in public broadcasting, this is a smart, hardball move by WGBH in its ongoing campaign to catch and overtake WBUR in local radio. One might almost say cutthroat, but public broadcasting people only use such words when talking about, you know, Somali pirates.
PRI distributes "This American Life" and other popular shows to stations including WBUR. And it also syndicates WBUR's "Here & Now." Despite all the nice talk abut how the WGBH deal isn't going to affect that, it's impossible to believe that 'GBH won't have an inside track to get national shows like "This American Life" the next time the contract comes up. And to get their own shows syndicated. They'll all deny it now, but just watch. And if you were running WBUR, would you want to entrust your own shows to a syndicator controlled by your crosstown rival?
They'll say this is all about strengthening WGBH's national profile and PRI's finances and, you know, better serving listeners. But I bet there were a few high-fives behind closed doors at 'GBH HQ when they sealed the deal. After the bad PR they earned with their recent jazz massacre, and the wide lead 'BUR has in local ratings, this is one round that goes to the challenger.
Jazz lovers of all stripes are invited to turn out at 1 Guest Street, Brighton, tonight at 8 for a swinging New Orleans-style jazz funeral, complete with live music. The address is the home of the WGBH broadcast empire (right), and the funeral is for jazz on WGBH-FM (89.7). More of a protest march, really. But swingin'. No word on who'll be carrying the coffin. Or maybe WGBH will come to its senses, and the box will be empty.
If you're reading this, odds are you already know that WGBH is cutting the majority of its jazz programming, shifting the long-running, Monday-through-Thursday "Eric in the Evening" program to weekends, cutting Steve Schwartz's Friday show altogether and - this part is still rumor - cutting the weeknight editions of the overnight syndicated "Jazz with Bob Parlocha" as well. News and talk, primarily reruns of WGBH shows, will replace the missing jazz hours, as the station continues its attempt to win the city's news-and-information audience from WBUR-FM.
The first two moves were announced as a "new focus on jazz," which sounds a lot like Mitt Romney telling us the dog loved it up there on top of the car for 500 miles.
You've probably heard by now that WGBH (89.7 FM) has pulled the carpet from under weeknight jazz listeners, with plans to move Eric Jackson's venerable "Eric in the Evening" jazz show to the weekends, cutting it from 16 hours a week to 9, and eliminating Steve Schwartz's Friday night show altogether. Jackson has been on the air in more or less the same slot for 30 years. Jazz fans were up in arms, storming the barricades via a Facebook page. We'll see how that works.
The best part was that WGBH had the Orwellian brass to call this "a new focus on jazz." Call the BFD! Pants on fire!
Lots of folks noted that jazz fans can get whatever they want from the Internet, and Dan Kennedy perhaps shot from the hip with the observation, "I suspect not many people listen to terrestrial jazz radio in the age of Pandora." I suspect that many Internet jazz listeners are in fact dialing up terrestrial stations online - WGBH when Eric's on, as well as the wonderful WWOZ from New Orleans or KKJZ from Long Beach. (As I type these words, Ella Fitzgerald is scatting on K-Jazz, Dan; I think they knew I was going to mention you.) But yes, the Internet has had its usual impact here. And Jackson is 20th in his broadcast time slot.
That's what it's about, ratings and dollars. WGBH decided some time ago that it must battle WBUR for the large audience that tunes in for "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered," "Marketplace" and other "news and information" programming, be it local or national. And that means anything that doesn't fit those plans must be shunted to the sidelines - hence the move of WGBH's classical programming to WCRB (99.5 FM) a couple of years ago. Probably the classical listeners had a Facebook insurrection too, but it doesn't appear to have made much of a dent.
You might be one of those naive old-timers who remembers that public broadcasting was created to provide programming that wasn't supported by the marketplace. About the best spin you could put on the present reality is that fine folks at 'GBH and 'BUR have looked at the degraded news operations of the networks and the cable screamers and decided that their most important, their sole mission, should be to provide a news and information alternative.
That both stations are providing pretty much the (oxymoron alert!) same alternative, well... tough. They're afraid for their jobs like everyone else in the media these days, and if big ratings is what they need to keep them...
But I can't see myself driving along the Charles late some night, looking at the city lights, and wanting to tune in reruns of a midday issues talk show, not matter who's doing the talking.