On top of a small incline adjacent to the Mahaney Center for the Arts sits a small, steel structure that appears to be housing electrical equipment. Upon taking a closer look, the back of the piece resembles a house of cards, and viewers realize that they are looking at a work of art. This sculpture is a part of the current Museum of Art exhibition Vito Acconci: Thinking Space, and it carries a controversial 30-year history at the College. When prominent visual and performing artist Vito Acconci came to the College as a Visiting Professor of Studio Art in 1983, his public, participatory art spurred impassioned reactions. Acconci’s J-term course, “Art in Public Spaces,” included an installation of thought-provoking sculptural pieces throughout the campus. One piece in particular, a steel sculpture called Way Station (Thinking Space) was described by the artist as “A closet-like structure by the side of the road, at a college campus, that descends to a partially underground space that can serve as a study room … A way station can come mid-way to the journey ...” This structure, Acconci’s first permanent architectural commission, was erected on what was the busiest pathway on campus, halfway between what are now the Ross complex and the Freeman International Center. Community members entered the sculpture, finding a flag within a flag design on the inside door and a sliding mirror door directly in front of them. Upon entering, participants found a table, concrete seat and shelving unit, and could sit hunched inside to accommodate the sloping back wall. On the back wall, a person inside the structure could rearrange nine panels, letters spelling out “God,” “Man” and “Dog,” on one side and playing cards on the other. Students and community members immediately reacted to the piece, many calling it a waste of space and an eyesore. The Committee to Relocate the Acconci Sculpture was formed in April of 1983, and hundreds of students signed a petition to move the sculpture to a more secure, and less public, location. The petition’s main argument was that “people who don’t want to look at it shouldn’t have to.” As time went on, students and faculty continued to complain about what they felt was an oddly located and ugly piece, and the structure was repainted four times due to varying degrees of vandalism. Museum Curator Emmie Donadio recalls the difficulties of housing a new kind of participatory art form. “We never thought about vandalism or security,” she said. “There was no public sculpture on campus before the art museum, and there was no administration to oversee the structure. The only people with responsibility would have been the art gallery.” The drama surrounding the sculpture reached a breaking point after the graduation ceremony of 1985, when the sculpture was ignited by a blow torch and 75 percent of the piece caught on fire. Part of the College’s history is revitalized with Vito Acconci: Thinking Space, which honors the artists’ career and features a replication of the controversial Way Station (Thinking Space) sculpture, now behind the pond by the Mahaney Center for the Arts. The exhibit marks the 30th anniversary of Acconci’s residency and celebrates his varied works, particularly in architecture. After experimenting in the field with Way Station (Thinking Space), the artist founded the Acconci Studio and worked internationally as a designer of public places. Projects have included, among others, retail stores, recreation facilities, airport terminals, and recycling plants. The exhibit on display now surveys Acconci’s career through a timeline of photographs, diagrams, videos and explanations written by the artist stretching around the walls of the museum space. Acconci’s work boldly asks for participants and consistently returns to the theme of both blending in and sticking out. On the other side of the exhibition space, a timeline details the construction of Way Station (Thinking Space), augmented by articles from The Campus tracking the controversy of the piece. Six of the original playing card/letter panels are in the exhibition, some clearly scorched by fire, and there are also details of the reconstruction of the sculpture, called Way Station (Thinking Space) II. The remnants of the original steel shell were reused, and the only primary difference between the replica and original is location. Donadio stressed the significance of Acconci’s piece to the College. “This reconstruction has been a project of Museum Director Richard Saunders since he arrived at the museum in 1985,” said Donadio. “The piece is a historic monument – we want people to know about it, what it represents, the thought that went into it and what it conveys. Acconci’s work partly inspired The Committee on Art in Public Places, which oversees 22 works now on campus.” Despite the negative reactions to his work, Acconci accomplished his goal of using art as a public conversation piece and forever changed the Middlebury College art community as a result. Now a member of the Art Faculty of the City University of New York and at Pratt Institute, as well as an active architectural designer, Acconci returns to campus on Thursday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. for a free illustrated talk in Dana Auditorium. He will also visit with students in programs in Studio Art and Architectural Studies. Vito Acconci: Thinking Space is currently on exhibition in the Overbrook Gallery until Dec. 8, and Way Station: Thinking Space II will be unveiled the weekend of Oct. 18. This fascinating sculpture and artist pair has a unique connection to the Middlebury community, and even those uninterested in art will appreciate Acconci’s talk and innovative design style.
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African pop diva Angelique Kidjo recently brought an international crowd of 7,000 people to their feet, dancing together to an upbeat song about global peace and harmony at the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway. This is just what Kidjo does, seamlessly entertaining and provoking social and cultural questions throughout her thirty years as a world music star. If you haven’t yet heard the name Angelique Kidjo, you should, and you will hear it a lot more in the next week as the college prepares to welcome the artist Time magazine calls “Africa’s premier diva,” to campus October 2 and 3 for a Fulton Lecture and performance. A musical and philanthropic force worldwide, Kidjo, a native of the African country Benin, humbly enjoys her status as an international superstar, uniting people with her powerful, expressive voice, infectious charisma, and numerous philanthropic endeavors. Drawing inspiration from Afropop, Latin, jazz, gospel and funk, Kidjo crafts her own genre of music that has prompted collaborations with Bono, Josh Groban, John Legend, Peter Gabriel, Alicia Keys, Vampire Weekend and countless others. President of the College Ronald Liebowitz, who first heard about Kidjo from his wife, started the conversation with Dean of the College Shirley Collado about bringing Kidjo to campus a few years ago. “We were disappointed that few here at Middlebury had the opportunity to hear her, and so we began making inquiries,” Liebowitz said. “We then heard she was playing at Bowdoin for a special celebration there and realized our inquiries had a good chance to succeed.” Kidjo’s appearance at Middlebury was only confirmed in the past month. Kidjo’s career is full of highlights, including performances at three Nobel Peace Prize Concerts, two Olympic Games, five United Nations General Assembly concerts, two Nelson Mandela foundation events, two Fifa World Cups and concerts at Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House and the Royal Albert Theater in London. “What I want people to take from my music is empowerment, joy, strength, love,” Kidjo said, in a 2010 interview. Kidjo’s infectiously upbeat sound is reinforced by the thought-provoking messages behind her songs. In her 2007 single “Pearls,” Kidjo sings, “There is a woman in Somalia/Scraping for pearls by the roadside/There’s a force stronger than nature/Keeps her will alive/This is how she’s dying/She’s dying to survive/Don’t know what she is made of/I would like to be that brave.” Kidjo was catapulted to fame overnight in West Africa after the release of her debut album in 1980, prompting fans to travel hundreds of miles to see her perform. The accolades have only intensified with each of her nine subsequent albums. Kidjo uses her platform as an international artist to participate in a variety of philanthropic endeavors fighting to change the way the world views Africa. Named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2002, she has travelled to eleven African countries, focusing on the need to educate girls, eradicate polio and increase aid for children affected by HIV/AIDS. In 2007, the artist founded The Batonga Foundation, an organization in five African countries that gives girls a secondary and higher education to empower them to take leadership roles to change Africa. Kidjo, who was taunted as a child for attending school, works with the foundation to improve teaching standards, provide materials, grant scholarships, and increase awareness of the importance of education for all. “She is a great musical talent, perhaps the best known African singer today, who incorporates the incredible culture and musical diversity of the African continent,” Liebowitz said. “She reflects the interests and aspirations of many of our students. She believes strongly in women’s causes, in improving the lives of many in her native Africa and beyond, in social entrepreneurship, and she sings and performs in at least six languages.” Students and community members will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear Kidjo speak and perform when she visits campus on Oct. 2 and 3. On Oct. 2, Kidjo will sit down with Assistant Professor of Music Damascus Kafumbe in the McCullough Social Space at 4:30 p.m. for a free fireside chat-style discussion as a part of the John Hamilton Fulton Lecture series. The pair will discuss Kidjo’s music and philanthropic work in Africa and the world. Middlebury ID holders will be given priority entrance to the event. Kafumbe, whose top floor Mahaney Center for the Arts office was easily discernible by the Kidjo music seeping through his door, says that the talk, for him, is natural. “The administration asked me, being an ethnomusicologist and Africanist, and also being an African,” Kafumbe said. “My life revolves around music. I’m paid to talk about, write about, play and produce music, and I moderate broader questions about understanding culture through music in class, so this is an extension of what I do.” Though this talk is a part of the Fulton Lecture Series, it will be more of a conversation than a prepared lecture, emphasizing Kidjo’s accessibility and desire to engage. Kafumbe was impressed by the administration’s openness to a style that worked for Kidjo, saying “our community revolves around storytelling and sitting around a hearth more than standing behind a podium.” President Liebowitz is also excited about the possibilities of the event. “During the conversation I hope the campus will hear how her creative work in music ties into her life’s work: to her philanthropy, her work in Africa, and about her work with international organizations to make a difference in lives in the developing world,” he said. On the evening of Oct 3, Kidjo will bring her energy and powerhouse vocals to Nelson arena for a live performance. Spectators should also expect an emphasis on drums and instrumentation, specifically in traditional African styles. Tickets are on sale now through the Box Office, $5 for students, $10 for all other Middlebury ID holders, and $20 to the general public. Kafumbe believes that Kidjo’s visit will spur discussion of African culture and music in the African and American contexts. “This is a very international community, but we are still on the other side of the Atlantic,” Kafumbe said. “Though Kidjo has lived in the United States for thirty years, she still embodies so many things we can learn from, especially what the sounds of her music mean and embody and foster in the diaspora.” It is not often that the campus community has the privilege of seeing and learning from an international artist of this scale, and the two events are not to be missed. I suggest the 2007 Grammy Award winning album Djin Djin and the 2010 live concert recording Spirit Rising as good introductions to the music of Kidjo before she appears on campus. More information can be found at www.kidjo.com.
Middlebury has always exposed students to a unique mixture of the arts, boasting world class performances and exhibitions alongside inspired faculty and student artists, but this fall, the arts at Middlebury promise to be particularly exciting. Featuring options from every genre of the arts, this semester’s line-up showcases strengths in contemporary art, international works, and an impressive array of chamber music. Already open to viewers, the Middlebury College Museum of Art’s fall exhibition, Vito Acconci: Thinking Space, celebrates the 30th anniversary of the artists’ winter residency at Middlebury and his 1983 premiere permanent exhibition Way Station I (Study Chamber). Acconci’s career has included a wide array of media including performance, visual art and international design of public places. A reconstruction of his ’83 work, Study Chamber, is available for viewing adjacent to the Mahaney Center for the Arts Pond. Acconci himself will give a public talk on Nov 7. Also at the museum from Sept 13 until Dec 8 is Screened and Selected II: Contemporary Photography and Video Acquisitions, 2006–2011. The museum is free of admission for all students. Kicking off the season with a dynamic start on Sept 20 and 21, the Living Word Project will perform Word Becomes Flesh, a thrilling event of urban hip-hop theater written by American playwright and national poetry slam champion Marc Bamuthi Joseph. The show is described by the author as a “choreo-poem,” depicting letters from a young single father to his unborn son through performance. The cast of five poet performers and a live DJ will be in residence from September 16-22, teaching master classes to students and community members and hosting a Verbal Onslaught night at 51 Main in preparation for their two shows. Mahaney Center for the Arts Director Liza Sacheli describes the show as fusing “tender stories, playful wit—and at times, purposeful rage—to give voice to the complexities and contradictions surrounding race, gender, and parenthood in America.” Sacheli also enthused about the performers impressive credentials, noting, “Students might recognize them from HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and Brave New Voices.” Both performances will feature opening acts by student spoken-word artists and a post-performance discussion. Hyphen, a contemporary dance company led by dance faculty member Catherine Cabeen, will grace the Middlebury stage for the first time for two public performances on Oct 11 and 12. The performances will explore the relationship between music, language, and emotion as manifested in the dancing body, and Cabeen will be giving a lecture and demonstration about the work on Oct 9. Tickets are on sale now to the Middlebury community and on Sept 16 to the general public. The Middlebury Department of Music presents a diverse selection of choices this fall, starting with two solo concerts by faculty Affiliate Artists Eric Despard on Sept 21 and Dayve Huckett on Oct 4, both on guitar. Anne Janson will present an evening of flute on Oct 5, and on Nov 2 many Affiliate Artists will come together for a collaborative concert. The Performing Arts Series presents accomplished British pianist Imogen Cooper on Oct 10 and the rising British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor on Oct 29. Grosvenor is especially impressive because he is only 20 years old, yet has already proven himself an international force on the music scene. He was selected as Gramophone magazine’s 2012 Young Artist of the Year and as one of BBC Radio 3‘s New Generation Artists in 2010. The Jupiter String Quartet will present a free concert on Nov 23, a powerful addition to the lineup of world class classical musicians. Despite the abundance of excellent guest artists, the Middlebury arts calendar still offers plenty of room for student groups. The Middlebury College Orchestra will host a Halloween themed concert on Oct 31 (costumes welcome), and the College Choir will perform American works and feature Middlebury composers on Nov 17, all while preparing for their upcoming Germany tour this summer. The Middlebury College-Community Chorus will perform their annual Thanksgiving concert on Nov 24, and the African Music and Dance Ensemble will delight audiences with a kick of culture on Nov 19. A few days later on Nov 22, the Sound Investment Jazz Ensemble will show off their impressive sound with their fall concert. These student events are all free to the public and serve as an excellent way to support fellow students and the arts. On Oct 14, south Indian classical dancer Sasikala Penumarthi will grace the concert stage for a performance with her students from the Atlanta, Georgia Academy of Kuchipudi Dance, giving the Middlebury community a free, unique look into an international dance form. In addition to guest artists, the 2013-2014 Dance Company of Middlebury will be working hard this fall in preparation for the premiere of an original work, The Meaning of the Masks, in the spring, and the community will have an opportunity to witness the culmination of four years of work in dance when two students, Adeline Cleveland ’13.5 and Amy Donahue ’13.5, perform contemporary dance incorporating gender dynamics, contemplative practices, and multimedia expression on Dec 5 and 6. This semester, the Theater Department is presenting two exciting plays directed by faculty and featuring student actors, starting Oct 31 and running until Nov 2 with controversial British playwright Caryl Churchill’s Vinegar Tom, an unsettling play about hanging witches directed by Cheryl Farone. The next month, Richard Romagnoli will offer his interpretation of Pentacost, a historical and political epic by David Edgar, whose title is a New Testament reference to the multiplicity of languages. Students should not forget about the Hirschfield International Film Series, which presents free foreign and independent films on Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. Included this fall are a bold 2011 British adaptation of the Emily Bronte novel Wuthering Heights on September 13, the Oscar-winning French film Amour, discussing love in old age on November 9th, and the story of 1970’s American musician Sixto Rodriguez in Searching for Sugar Man on November 16. There are simply too many events to describe this fall, and Mahaney Center Director Liza Sacheli wants students to know about a unique opportunity to see Performing Arts Series events. “We offer every first-year student a free ticket to a Performing Arts Series event,” Sacheli said. “We hope that this ‘welcome gift’ will be a first introduction to the amazing performances they’ll experience during their four years at Middlebury. Upperclassmen aren’t totally left out, though—Performing Arts Series events are only $6 for Middlebury College students. If you went to hear the same artist in New York or Boston, you could pay hundreds of dollars for the same concert. Last spring a student said our concerts were ‘a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, for less than a Noonie’s sandwich.’” Students should also keep in mind that each Commons purchases a limited number of free tickets available to students for certain events. There’s no excuse not to check out something new this fall. The arts at Middlebury are a wonderful way to take a break from academic stresses and be exposed to different cultures and ways of thinking, all while supporting fellow students and seeing the greatest artists in the world. A full arts calendar with detailed event and ticket information can be picked up at the Mahaney Center for the Arts or online at go/arts. See you there!
On May 3 and 4 an ensemble of dancers and musicians presented “Music, Dance, Light: Performance Improvisation” at the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts Dance Theater. The performance was the capstone experience for a group of students enrolled in Senior Lecturer in Dance Penny Campbell’s improvisational dance course and also served as an exploration — as the title suggests — of the interplay between dance, music and light.
The third annual Middlebury Bach Festival celebrated the life and music of Johann Sebastian Bach with a variety of concerts and information sessions April 26-28. This year’s festival was the most ambitious and well-attended to date, succeeding in presenting a challenging and diverse repertoire and bringing in a record number of students. Co-founder of the festival Jessica Allen, an accomplished soprano soloist, conductor and leader in the Vermont vocal community, was not surprised by the success of the festival. “I think the high quality performance of challenging music during this Festival is becoming more and more evident and the word is spreading among students and the greater community,” she said. “People come back for Bach. Once you delve into his music deeply enough, you get hooked both as a performer and audience member.” The festival began with the College Choir and Chamber Orchestra, who presented a range of repertoire to a record audience in the Concert Hall. The six selections in the first half loosely related to the emotions in the mythical story “Orfeo ed Euridice,” a tale of the trials of Orfeo to find and revive his dead wife, Euridice, with the advice of the Goddess of Love, Amor. The second half of the concert was dominated by the choruses, arias and recitatives of Gluck’s opera. The high-energy performance was grounded by the orchestration and three students soloists, Quinn Bernegger ’13.5 as Orfeo, Erica Furgiuele ’15 as Amor and Elyse Barnard ’15 as Euridice, who delighted the audience with their confident portrayals of the characters. Barnard spoke about soloing for the festival and singing with the choir with excitement. “It was really an honor singing the role of Euridice,” she said. “The music is just so exquisite. And of course, working with Jeff [Buettner] and being a part of the choir is always a rewarding experience. I can honestly say I’ve never been a part of a greater group — everyone in the choir is so talented and dedicated. We’ve put a lot of time, effort and energy into this performance and it has certainly paid off.” Saturday began with three interest sessions relating to the evening Bach presentation. Cynthia Huard led the first session, discussing the harpsichord concerto she later performed as the opening piece of the festival concert. Huard is the artistic director of the Rochester Chamber Music Society and serves as an affiliate artist at Middlebury. Her passion for early instruments began when she studied early keyboards, piano and music theory in Austria. Huard, who is regularly invited as a guest performer at festivals internationally, spoke of the challenges and rewards of performing Bach, and seemed extremely enthusiastic for the opportunity to participate in the evening performance. In the second interest session, Martin Pearlman, guest conductor of this year’s festival, discussed the orchestral suite that would be performed in the evening, the third out of Bach’s four orchestral suites, from 1731. Pearlman is a professor of music and historical performance at Boston University, as well as the founder and conductor of the Grammy nominated and internationally known Boston Baroque, an orchestra and choral group that only uses period instruments. Pearlman’s passion for excellence and historical accuracy was obvious as he discussed how instruments were played and their roles in Bach’s music. Pearlman moved through Bach scores as he demonstrated techniques on the piano and through Boston Baroque recordings, reliving the performance experience as he listened. “I have had the opportunity to see Martin Pearlman conduct Boston Baroque several times now,” Allen said of Pearlman’s participation, “and to have had him here working with our students and regional professionals was exceptional. It is really top-tier Baroque interpretation.” The final interest session was a conversation with countertenor Martin Near, the alto soloist for the Bach Magnificat. This discussion provided insight on an emerging and often overlooked voice part. He emphasized Bach’s unique and challenging style, stating that the singer must dig into the music, actively playing with the notes and deciding where to breathe in the complex architecture of the work. The interest sessions gave inside looks into the highly anticipated evening concert from professional perspectives, building hype for the main event. That evening, classical guitarist Eric Despard provided entertainment for community members in a relaxed, off-campus setting at 51 Main. Many attendees of the festival concert enjoyed his unique interpretations of Bach and other artists while they dined. Despard impressively performed the music memorized, carefully phrasing Bach on an instrument not usually associated with the composer. Following the event at 51 Main, Mead Chapel buzzed with excitement over the main event. Cynthia Huard took the stage to perform Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in D Minor, accompanied by five string musicians. She took to the challenging music with ease, her fingers flying confidently across the harpsichord. The instrument’s unique sound filled Mead Chapel well, nicely complimented by the strings, which carefully accompanied and did not overpower. The festival orchestra then took the stage, featuring professional and student musicians who performed Bach’s Orchestral Suite in D minor under the direction of Martin Pearlman. Pearlman conducted with sure, swift movements, prompting clean, expressive notes out of the instruments. The orchestra balanced extremely well and showed the physical nature of Bach, musicians moving their heads and feet while engaging with the music. Pearlman elicited a decisive sound of excellence throughout the suite, and ended the first half of the concert on an exciting note. After intermission, Pearlman returned with the orchestra and College Choir, presenting Bach’s Magnificat. The 12-movement work included rousing choruses and beautiful arias. The musicians brought high energy to the Magnificat, easily filling Mead Chapel with sound and beautifully phrasing the difficult music. Soprano soloist Carol Christensen performed the first arias with ease, producing a full and resonant sound while deftly mastering the difficult notes of Bach. Bass Erik Kroncke filled Mead Chapel with his confident, burly notes, eliciting smiles from the crowd with his recognizable deep voice. Countertenor Martin Near and tenor Adam Hall performed a beautiful duet, generating rare overtones and surprising the audience with Near’s unique high vocal clarity. Hall and Near also performed solo arias, highlighting their mastery of the material and Hall’s rich tenor. Students Suzanne Calhoun ’14, Juliana Kay ’13 and Alyssa Dillon ’15.5 also impressed with their captivating trio performance. The chorus took on a work usually reserved for conservatory choirs, establishing their dedication to mastering a wide variety of challenging repertoire. With the last notes of the Magnificat, the audience responded enthusiastically, eliciting many bows from Pearlman and the performers. The future of the festival is bright. World-renowned Bach scholar and Middlebury honorary doctorate recipient Christoph Wolff will return in 2014, and Allen is excited about numerous future paths for the festival, like presenting modern takes on Bach’s work. “Next year I hope to see even more students and faculty involved,” Allen said. “There are so many facets to explore within Bach’s music. The mathematics of tuning systems, historical and political influences on Bach’s music, how dance, language, poetry, visual art and architecture informed the rhythms and virtuosity in Bach’s work – it is all relevant and spans more academic areas than most people realize.”
This weekend, the Middlebury Bach Festival will celebrate its third year, offering a variety of events about the life and work of Johann Sebastian Bach to the community on April 26-28. The festival was started in 2011 by Associate Professor of Music Jeffrey Buettner and his wife Jessica Allen, who were inspired to bring something in classical music to the College after attending similar festivals in Philadelphia and Leipzig. In choosing Bach as the focus of the festival, Buettner says, “Bach represents a composer of great breadth, a virtuoso performer, a community musician and a teacher. Most important is that he was an educator as well as a performer. A lot of his music was written to teach.” Bach was certainly a unique force in his community, organizing music for town events and churches, and teaching whenever he found the opportunity. Active in the Baroque period of the early 18th century, Bach left behind over 1,000 compositions and inspired countless musicians with his genius. The festival combines student organizations with professional guests to provide three distinct days filled with Bach-inspired activities. The Middlebury Bach Festival kicks off Friday, April 26 at 8 p.m. in the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts Concert Hall with a performance by the college choir and chamber orchestra. Buettner, who also serves as the college’s Director of Choral Activities, is presenting Orfeo ed Euridice by Christoph Willibald Gluck, as well as other selections of choral music inspired by the story. This free event highlights two student organizations and offers a post-concert reception in the lower lobby of the fine arts center. Saturday offers a variety of events, starting in the morning with info sessions that encourage more in-depth learning about the behind-the-scenes process of the musicians. Three free sessions will be offered in the Concert Hall, with a free lunch at noon available to those attending any of the sessions. Harpsichordist Cynthia Huard will present “Daring Virtuosity in Bach’s ‘Concerto in D Minor’” at 10 a.m., followed by guest conductor Martin Pearlman’s session Performing Bach’s “Magnificat” at 11 a.m. At 1:30 p.m., countertenor Martin Near will present “A Day in the Life of a Countertenor.” These sessions add further insight into the performers and their methods for performing Bach, and give an idea of how Bach is interpreted today. At 6 p.m. on Saturday, classical guitarist Eric Despard will present music by Bach and others at 51 Main at his event “Bach Unplugged.” Also free, this performance offers a unique interpretation of Bach in a relaxed atmosphere and serves as a warm up for the festival’s main event. The Festival Concert, held in Mead Chapel on Saturday at 8 p.m., again features the College Choir and Chamber Orchestra in a performance of Bach’s classic work, “Magnificat.” Guest conductor Martin Pearlman has been performing Bach for over 40 years as a keyboardist and conductor. Buettner and Allen admired Pearlman’s work after seeing him in Boston, and when thinking of a guest conductor for this year’s festival at Middlebury, Pearlman seemed the natural choice. Pearlman founded Boston Baroque, a baroque and classical orchestra and chorus nominated for three Grammy’s that has toured at prestigious venues around the country and world. Pearlman studies Bach from a unique perspective, using only instruments available in Bach’s time when interpreting the composer’s work. Cynthia Huard will serve as harpsichord soloist, and vocal soloists include Carol Christensen, Martin Near, Adam Hall and Erik Kroncke. Buettner fears that students often aren’t interested in attending the festival because they hear “Bach” and automatically put him into classical category and are uninterested. “Bach is viscerally dramatic, exciting, explosive and emotional,” he argued. “He synthesized international, operatic and dance styles into works of art.” The performance experience is equally exciting for the musicians involved, especially students. “Bach is always an interesting undertaking,” said College Choir tenor, Steven Dunmire ’13, who has participated in the festival since its inauguration “His music is incredibly complex and difficult to learn, but once you do get it there is a rhythm and flow that makes it really energizing and enjoyable to perform. I’m glad that Professor Buettner has given us this chance to work with Bach. His enthusiasm for the pieces is part of what teaches me just how important Bach is to music history.” The festival concert is free for students with Midd ID, $10 for others in the college community and $12 for the general public. On Sunday, the music of Bach will be featured in five area congregations, expanding the festival into the larger community. Buettner says about the future of the festival, “Ideally, we’d like the town and college to work together much like Bach worked with education in his city. We want this festival to be bigger than the College and broaden to the larger community.”
The tale of Cinderella is one well known throughout the world. In the classic story, a fairy godmother transforms Cinderella into a beautiful girl, a spell that will fade when the clock strikes midnight. She goes to the ball where the Prince falls in love with her, but runs away to make her curfew before the Prince can find out who she is — leaving behind a lost slipper. The Prince searches the village for the girl whose foot fits the slipper and Cinderella gets her happy ending when she is discovered as the girl from the ball. Her stepsisters are left alone, and in some retellings, blinded by the birds which had befriended Cinderella. This popular fairytale served as the source story for the Inaugural Middlebury New Play Festival, an ambitious presentation of 14 original plays in Wright Theater April 10-13. Visiting Assistant Professor and alumnus Andrew Smith ’97.5 searched for a writing prompt suggesting reinvention of a classic tale in his role as artistic director of the festival, asking for 10-30 minute plays using any character from Cinderella as the main focus except for Cinderella. The plays did not need to be connected to the tale and could take place anytime or anywhere. One hundred and one submissions from around the world were narrowed down to 14, including five alumni playwrights and one current student entry. The festival faced the unique challenge of developing new work, and featured the efforts of 21 students in 66 roles and a massive behind the scenes team. Teddy Anderson ’13.5 co-directed the festival with Smith as his senior work and called the experience, “amazing. Having the opportunity to direct seven, very different plays with actors of varying experience has forced me to break out of my comfort zone as a director.” The festival was broken into two evenings of seven plays each, alternating the two distinct presentations over the four evenings of the festival. Wright Theater was transformed into an intimate space, a riser of seating facing the stage and two smaller seating areas facing stage right and left, allowing for a closer interaction between the performers and the audience. Evening A offered a wide variety of thought-provoking plays. “That Girl is in the Rearview Mirror,” by Samantha Collier ’09, explored Cynder, wonderfully portrayed by Nicholas Hermerling ’14.5, a boy confused by his desire to dress like a girl until he meets Prince, a girl similarly confused by gender constraints. Prince is comfortable with his male identity and convinces Cynder to accept who she is, taking her away from her intolerant stepmother. The play cleverly reinventedthe original tale, discussing a very modern issue in a real and conscious manner. Similarly addressing a modern issue was “Service Dogs” by Naomi Shafer ’11.5, which examined the value of a liberal arts education in the modern workforce and the struggles of 20-somethings to conform to stereotypes of carefree happiness while worrying about how to pay the rent. This play was my favorite of the night, imaginatively playing with the relationship between the characters and blurring the lines between good or bad. I did not understand why “Living the Dream” by Lia Romeo was chosen as the opener for the night and for the festival. The play featured three college guys waking up, hungover, after a night of partying at a club. One of the guys described his encounter with a girl from the night before, and the three characters exchanged painfully long conversation about partying and girls and drinking before realizing that the girls name was Cindy and that she’d left her shoe. The play simply seemed to promote the heavy college drinking stereotypes and did not offer any thought-provoking insight. Evening B, in my opinion, offered seven solid plays from different, creative perspectives. The opener was “After a Spell,” by Kirk German ’00.5, featuring a mouse family whose daughter is transformed for one night into a majestic horse and eventually decides to leave her family for the opportunity to make a permanent change. The most confusing and thought-provoking play of the night, “Sister Dear,” by Gillian Durkee, was a haunting interpretation of the two stepsisters, who holed themselves in an attic and played the same creepy game each day, serving tea for themselves and their father, represented by a teddy bear, and their sister Ella, represented by a porcelain doll. After spreading cinder on the doll to try to make it talk, it is taken away by the Prince, who is a friend of their mother and worried that the doll is making them paranoid. It takes a chilling scene where one of the sisters almost cuts of her toe before the sisters realize that the only thing that will keep them going is being together. Chelsea Malone ’15 and Evann Normandin ’15 offered compelling performances emphasized by the use of effectively dim lighting and mist. However, I think the final play of the festival stole the show for me. Set in the world of modeling, the play started with all of the actors in black clothing with black coverings over their faces, taking away their identities. One of the female models, Freja, seemingly humble and unaffected by the problems of the industry, forms a relationship with Mathias, a male model with similar ideals. She is later negatively influenced by Othillia, a model obsessed with appearance and bitter towards the most popular supermodel, Abby, a girl who seemed to fall into superstardom with no effort. The girls decide to attack Abby, using hairspray to try to blind her, but instead blind each other. Mathias ends up with Abby, the girl still unaffected by the greed of the business. This play used an excellent combination of blocking, lighting, sound and technology, projecting photographs of the models on the wall throughout the play. This extremely ambitious festival is an excellent presentation of 14 starkly different plays based on the same tale. The work of the behind the scenes team made for effortlessly excellent blocking choices, a deceptively simple set that still allowed for depth and movement, imaginative use of the company as props and mythical lighting design. A festival of plays is something new for Middlebury, and I think that the flexibility it required of all the artistic voices was an incredible learning experience. Co-director Anderson said, “I only recently switched my focus from acting to directing after returning from abroad. So this has been very much a learning process for me. Everything about this project is new for me. I had never worked with new plays or directed a large cast of actors before.” The plays were fresh, inspired takes on a classic tale, some so far removed from the original that it took the duration of the play to figure out who each of the characters was supposed to represent. I eagerly look forward to the next New Play Festival, as it invites unique discussion about modern issues and exposes the community to a usually inaccessible kind of theater.
The Escher String Quartet dazzled a packed house on Friday, March 8 at the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts Concert Hall. The group derives its name from the contemporary graphic artist M.C. Escher, inspired by his use of individual components working together to form a whole. The free concert, made possible by generous support from the Institute for Clinical Science and Art, certainly proved the quartet’s unique individual and collaborative abilities. From the very first note, the audience was captivated, feeling the palpable energy radiating off the stage. Four virtuosos passionately took their natural places as performers, demonstrating an excellent cohesiveness. The perfect blend and balance was only augmented by the finely honed technique that each musician carefully demonstrated while playing. Rich tones filled every corner of the wonderful acoustic space as the group utilized dynamics to their full advantage. Each musician brought a different energy and personality to the performance, much to the delight of the audience. First violinist Adam Barnett-Hart firmly planted his feet in a wide, almost athletic stance at the beginning of the concert and let his upper body take over. Confident, energetic movements made his playing look easy, but the sound he willed out of his violin floated gracefully through the air. Violist Pierre Lapointe made his playing into a sport, shifting his feet and changing position regularly, giving the perception that for him, playing the viola is a physical activity. Frankly, I’ve always thought that violas never sounded quite as nice as violins, but Lapointe proved me wrong. Cellist Dana Johansen’s on-stage presence gave off an air of confidence and respect for his instrument, and he was fantastic to watch, head bobbing in time like a true virtuoso. Second violinist Aaron Boyd perfectly added the interesting fourth layer, performing with a level of focus and intensity that allowed his violin to produce full, intricate sounds. The Escher String Quartet gave a world class performance that the College was lucky to have. The Escher String Quartet is already well known in classical music, having performed at some of the most prestigious venues in the world. Besides performing at the Louvre, Kennedy Center and Alice Tully Hall, the quartet also completed a three-year residency as artists of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s “CMS Two” program and was the BBC’s New Generation Artists of 2010-2012. In August of 2012, the Quartet gave their BBC Proms debut, and next year, they will tour in Europe and curate and perform in a series of concerts at Lincoln Center celebrating the 100th anniversary of composer Benjamin Britten’s birth. Middlebury is fortunate to have a concert of this caliber, especially one available to the community for free. The Institute for Clinical Art and Science and the Middlebury Performing Arts Series have a multi-year collaboration that allows for one or two high-profile string quartet concerts to be performed for audiences free of charge. “We’ve been following the Escher’s career for a few years.,” said Middlebury Performing Arts Series Director Paul Nelson. “They are a highly regarded young, American quartet, and were offering a very lovely program, which includes a rarely heard work by Britten (Quartet No. 3 in D), whose centennial is being celebrated this year.” The Performing Arts Series has been presenting the world’s brightest talent to the community for 93 years, bringing in artists who would not usually visit such a small community. The series also has a particular interest in rising stars that can interact with the college community in meaningful ways. “We try to organize residency activities with our visiting artists so that Middlebury students have a chance to intimately work with a world-renowned professional,” Associate Director of the Performing Arts Series Allison Carroll said. “Just yesterday, the Escher Quartet worked with one of Professor [of Music] Su Lian Tan’s chamber music ensembles.” New this year to the society is the Performing Arts Series Society (PASS), a group open to students for free that allows the community to have a closer relationship with the artist and the series. PASS presented a pre-concert talk about the music later performed by the Escher String Quartet concert, led by Music Professor Greg Vitercik. The Performing Arts Series is presenting “The Opulence of Integrity,” a new work by dance faculty member Christal Brown’s INSPIRIT Dance Company, March 15 and 16 at 8 p.m. in the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts.
We probably all know Gotye as the guy who sings “Somebody That I Used to Know”—the song that permeated radio, commercials and karaoke nights in 2012. The Belgian-Australian independent artist couldn’t have expected the massive international success of the single, which topped the charts in 26 countries and has sold 13 million digital copies to date. My guess is that many of those 13 million Gotye listeners have not heard any of the other tracks from the artist’s 2011 release “Making Mirrors,” but after picking up Best Alternative Music Album at the recent 2013 Grammy Awards, I have a feeling that many people will be taking a closer look. What is remarkable about “Making Mirrors” is that it was recorded on a MacBook Pro from Gotye’s parents’ farm in Australia, far removed from the enormous production costs typical of stars as big as Gotye. Born Wouter De Backer in Belgium, Gotye had previously recorded two albums in this manner, garnering mild success and critical recognition in Australia. Filled with ambition, “Making Mirrors,” was not made to impress anyone. The album alternates between songs that experiment with whisper singing and heavy synthesizers to pop-fueled cuts with catchy melodies and more traditional musical structures. Gotye brings in aspects of soul, rock, electronica and 80’s pop to the record with his Peter Gabriel and Sting inspired sound, while still providing enough material that appeals to radio and the masses. Audiences were captured by the contrast in “Somebody That I Used to Know,” which starts off quietly and then catches the listener off guard with its belted, funky chorus. The album works in much the same way. A quiet song focused on instrumentation makes way for a happy, full voiced single. Gotye sets himself apart by creating 12 distinct songs, not just copying one successful idea over and over again. The themes of the album work well with the title “Making Mirrors.” “Somebody That I Used to Know” and “Eyes Wide Open” convey the shattering of a relationship, while later on the album “I Feel Better” and “Save Me” reflect the highlights. Gotye uses the album as a method of self-reflection, making the work relatable. The album hits a slump when Gotye throws out two random cuts, the highly synthesized “State of the Art,” followed by the creepily-whispered “Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Watching You.” These songs do not make sense with the rest of the album, or as singles, but they do not detract from the overall value of “Making Mirrors.” The instrumental and vocal layering is inventive, captivating and refreshing. From a small Australian barn, Gotye accomplished what so many heavily funded pop artists do not. Utilizing a wide variety of instruments, not a sound board, there is a musicality and naiveté about the album that makes it stand out. I only hope that Gotye will not dumb himself down when he makes what will be a highly anticipated follow up. He is capable of more, and should hold himself to the higher standard. I highly recommend listening to “Making Mirrors” in its most effective form, as an album, from start to finish. In today’s digital age of quick-download singles, it’s easy to forget about the album as an art form and “Making Mirror” is a refreshing reminder that some songs are meant to be listened to in groups.
If you’re looking for some laughs this weekend, a local production by the Middlebury Community Players won’t disappoint. They are presenting the hilarious show Play On! at The Town Hall Theater Feb 14-17. The local theater company, dedicated to producing musicals, comedies and dramas in Addison County, is premiering this play within a play that’s perfect for a Valentine’s Day date or a fun outing with friends to celebrate Winter Carnival weekend. The comedy, penned by the prolific Rick Abbot, explores an idea that anyone involved in theater is well aware of: “if anything can go wrong, it will.” The production follows a group of actors desperately trying to put on a play. Adding more drama and hilarity to an already ill-fated production is the frustratingly conceited playwright who can’t seem to stop making changes to the script. The audience follows the process through three acts, depicting the rehearsal of the doomed show, the ill-fated dress rehearsal, and the Murphy’s Law performance to the climactic end. The show provides plenty of laughs while giving a great look into all the things that can go wrong in theater, incorporating uproarious sound effects, romance and a few outrageous props along the way. Promising a priceless diamond necklace, mistaken identity and fake British accents, the production offers many surprises. Systems Administrator and Wireless Network Specialist Mike Lynch plays the director in Play On! Since 1996, Lynch has enjoyed participating in local Vermont theater companies. His passion for theater is palpable, and he speaks highly of working with the cast. “This show has been a great experience for me,” he said. “I’m enjoying working with a great group of friends from previous shows, as well as getting to know several new folks. We’ve been having lots of fun.” The positive camaraderie between the actors helps the hilarity and charm of the show shine. The show’s director, Dora Greven, is enthusiastic about how the comedy will be received. “It’s a guaranteed laugh-out-loud kind of show,” she said. “I still laugh at every single rehearsal, and I’ve seen it many times!” The 10 actor volunteer cast, comprised of Addison County community members, has constantly developed since starting rehearsals before the New Year. Greven noted that the group wants to give a fresh and entertaining performance, saying, “The members of the cast are always trying to crack each other up. They want to translate to the audience that they are having a great time.” The cast and creative team have given the show the motto “kitch done well,” and are hopeful that it will delight all who come to see it. The show is a great opportunity to get off campus and support the local community. Lynch is excited about having students at the performances. “We’d love to have students come to the show!” he said. “It’s really quite a funny play. You’re likely to see a side of the townsfolk that you don’t normally see. Who knows, maybe you’ll enjoy our show so much that you’ll be tempted to audition for a future production!” Treat yourself to a night of laughs by going to see Play On! at the Town Hall Theater. The show runs Thursday, Feb 14 through Saturday, Feb. 17 at 8 p.m., with a matinee at 2 p.m. on Sunday the 18th. An American Sign Language interpretation will be available at the Sunday showing. The show is produced by Mary Longey and co-stage managed by Kate Tilton and Bowen Abbey. Included in the cast are Kevin Commins, Kendra Gratton, Raymond Johnston, Megan Kelley, Ark Lemal, Mike Lynch, Tom Noble, Robynn Stanley, Kathleen Walls and Matt White. Reserved seating tickets are $17 and can be purchased at the Town Hall Theater Box Office, open noon to five Monday through Saturday, by calling 802-382-9222, or by visiting www.townhalltheater.org. More information on the Middlebury Community Players, including how to get involved, can be found at www.middleburycommunityplayers.org. The company’s next production is the classic musical “The Threepenny Opera,” premiering April 25.
The Imperfectionists, the bold debut novel from Tom Rachman, appears to be a story about a failing English language newspaper in Rome, destined to fade away like so many other print publications in the 21st century. At second glance, it becomes apparent that the work is really about people, and as the title suggests, flawed people. The novel is actually a collection of 11 short stories, linked through the newspaper, but also capable of standing on their own as distinct pieces of short fiction. Rachman had no lack of inspiration, working for newspapers in eight countries around the world before beginning his fiction career. The Imperfectionists is steeped with commentaries on staff hierarchies, struggles to obtain proper funding and the pressure reporters face to consistently find compelling and marketable content. One freelance writer discovers that the paper no longer requests quality in stories, but shock factor. “You know our money problems, Lloyd. We’re only buying freelance stuff that’s jaw-dropping these days. Terrorism, nuclear Iran, resurgent Russia — that kind of thing. Anything else we basically take from the wires. It’s a money thing, not about you.” Exploring the complicated world of newspaper production in modern times, Rachman allows the reader to watch the slow decline of the publication through the perspectives of characters from every area of the staff, and this is where the power of the novel lies. The characters are charming, frustrating and incredibly real. From the young publisher who is only capable of having a conversation with his dog, to the reporter so desperate for a story that he blatantly copies from other papers, to the reader who insists on reading every daily edition of the paper cover to cover, the quirks and struggles of the characters involved with the newspaper are what make the novel shine. They manipulate, make mistakes and are sometimes blind to reality, much like people we all know. There is something of everyone in at least one of the characters, whether the reader likes to admit it or not. Frequently, the characters make decisions so disgusting that they are tattooed in the reader’s mind for days. Are these shocking behaviors simply effective fictional plot developments to lure the reader, or brilliant portrayals of real human characteristics? Readers are forced to realize that people have imperfections, little cracks in carefully crafted facades that may never be seen by the outside world. Some of the stories are weak and may have been better left out, like the stereotypical editor-in-chief who has neglected her personal life for work, or the old, single copy editor who is still the lowest copy editor at the paper because of her painful insecurities. These scenarios have been portrayed countless times before and offer no original ideas about human nature. Much preferred is the story about the business reporter who is so desperate for love that she allows a robber into her life, permitting him to live in her apartment and proud of herself for finally having a “boyfriend,” never mind that her possessions seem to frequently go missing. This originality is what really captures the desperations of the characters, who are all fundamentally longing for something, whether it is love, success or a new start. Rachman’s prose is extremely readable, with a simplistic, no frills style that drags in readers. “If history has taught us anything,” Arthur muses, “it is that men with mustaches must never achieve positions of power.” The novel is filled with the kind of sentences that beg to be read repeatedly and marveled at for sheer individual power, like “They had holes to fill on every page and jammed in any vaguely newsworthy string of words provided it didn’t include expletives, which they were apparently saving for their own use around the office.” Darkly humorous and insightful, each word is necessary and carefully chosen. The work is so technically flawless, with prose, structure and human analysis perfectly interlocking, that it is hard to believe the author is only 35. The Imperfectionists is a novel about individual lives, and how one small newspaper influences so many. It makes fun of the modern media, the way we treat each other and how often we don’t see the things that are right in front of us. Though some of the stories are more worthy than others, it is still an eye-opening journey to trace the history of a small paper through a prism of views. A film version of The Imperfectionists is expected in theaters in late 2013, produced by Brad Pitt. Since the original publication of the novel in 2010, Rachman has written multiple short stories, and a new novel is expected in the spring of 2014. Recommendation: If you need action or a fast-moving plot in a novel, this is not for you, but if you’re willing to delve into characters, read The Imperfectionists now.