DramaWatch: Tina Packer’s feminine forces of Will

"Women of Will" charts Shakespeare's growth through his portrayals of female characters; Theatre Vertigo peers over the edge; plus shows and more shows.

Since its founding in 2008, Portland Playhouse has yet to stage a full production of a William Shakespeare play, leaning instead on August Wilson and Charles Dickens, and showcasing 21st-century playwriting stars such as Theresa Rebeck and Tarell Alvin McCraney. Yet Shakespeare has played a central role in the company. Two of the company’s founders, Brian and Nikki Weaver, worked together early in their careers at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts. The educational model the Weavers learned there to work with high school students they’ve since replicated here with the Fall Festival of Shakespeare.

The connection bears juicier fruit this fall as the Playhouse presents a show — or rather a series of shows, really — called Women of Will, by the justly acclaimed Shakespeare and Co. founding artistic director Tina Packer. 

British-born actor-director Tina Packer unpacks Shakespeare’s views of women and society in Women of Will. Photo: Kevin Sprague, 2011.

The basic Women of Will, which opens Oct. 24, offers a thematic overview of many of the female characters in Shakespeare’s plays, their psychological dimensions and dramatic functions, and of Packer’s theory that these characters reveal essential things about Shakespeare’s artistic growth. Beginning Nov. 6, the schedule also folds in a series of five one-night-only deep dives, with titles such as Warrior Woman, from Violence to Negotiation and The Maiden Phoenix; The Daughter Redeems the Father. Packer performs selections from the plays, with the help of actor Nigel Gore, elucidating along the way in a fluid lecture-demo approach.
When I first noticed Women of Will on the Playhouse schedule I thought, “Oh, I’ve seen this sort of thing before.” What it brought to mind was Virgins to Villains: My Journey with Shakespeare’s Women, a solo show by Oregon Shakespeare Festival stalwart Robin Goodrin Nordli; she performed it as a Portland Shakespeare Project fundraiser in 2015. That show, however, was highly personal, recounting the Shakespearean roles that she had performed and how the characters reflected her own life experiences.
Packer’s approach is more dramaturgical. 

“When I was working on Shakespeare’s plays as a director, I started realizing that there was a pattern to the way in which Shakespeare wrote the women characters,” Packer says in a brief Broadway.com video about the show. “And then I started realizing the pattern was actually to do with Shakespeare’s psychological development; it’s his enlightenment journey. And once I started realizing that, I couldn’t wait to map out the whole thing.”

The progression, roughly speaking, takes us from women as victims of violence to women as truth tellers, to women as seekers of power and finally as what we might think of as agents of redemption.

“It’s really with Juliet he begins,” Packer told Charlie Rose in a 2013 interview. “That’s when you hear Shakespeare inside, if I can put it like that: embodying women as opposed to writing about women. And by the time he gets to the late plays, he actually says, look, the only way out of the violence cycle is to follow what the women are doing — and the creative spirit, but there’s an alignment between women and the creative spirit…

“This is political for me, as well as poetical and philosophical.”

The flattened stage

Speaking of Slick Willy’s women, how about the way they get into it at Minnesota’s Great River Shakespeare Festival?

The flattened stage — live!

One of the reasons that theater snobs are theater snobs is because they love it live — that is, the immediacy and presence of a production playing out onstage in front of (or, sometimes, all around) you, the audience member. But sometimes, we have to take what we can get.

As half measures go, however, NT Live — the live-captured, high-definition-video presentations of stage productions from the National Theatre in London — can be mighty satisfying. Personally, I tend to find them somewhat overdetermined, with cuts and close-ups that forestall the choices in attention and focus that a true theater event allows. But on the other hand, there’s dramatic intelligence to the camera choices, and the caliber of design and performance is a wonderful thing to be able to take in with a mere jaunt downtown instead of a trip across the Atlantic. 

Up next in the series, screened at the World Trade Center Theater: 
On Sunday: The Lehman Trilogy, Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles, directed by Sam Mendes, in an acclaimed (and somewhat lengthy) examination of the long-running family-run financial firm that would wind triggering the Great Recession.

On Sunday and repeating on Saturday, Oct. 26: Fleabag, the solo show that launched the TV-series adaptation and the stardom of creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Vertigo on the edge

A year ago, theater insider and ArtsWatcher extraordinaire Bobby Bermea took an in-depth look at Theatre Vertigo, the plucky Portland company whose history of exciting, risk-taking work has proceeded hand-in-hand with its history of continually destabilizing roster turnover. Talking about the challenge of feeling a sense of ownership amid the fluidity, company member 

Robert David Wyllie recalled wondering:  “’It’s been around for a while, I didn’t found it, is it gonna feel like mine?’ And pretty much instantly, it did. Because there’s always a crisis. Either you’re new and it’s your first crisis or you’ve lived through two or three crises and you’re like, ‘Okay, that’s just how it is.’ You just roll with it.”

One flask over the line: Theatre Vertigo has specialized in the rough-edged energy of plays such as The Drunken City. Photo: Theatre Vertigo, 2015.

In the time since, Wyllie and others have left Vertigo, but his diagnosis holds for their replacements: Theatre Vertigo is facing another crisis.

“With rent prices skyrocketing, The Shoebox in dire need of upgrades and repairs, and theatre attendance dwindling, this Portland theatre icon is in jeopardy of not being able to continue on to year 23,” begins the plea on a recently created Save Theatre Vertigo page at GoFundMe.com. “This campaign will help us cover the immediate costs of closing out our first show of the season, rent and expenses for The Shoebox for November and December (approximately $5,400), much needed repairs to our electrical system, and initial funding for our January show.”

Over the first 10 days since the appeal was posted, donors have pledged about $2,000 toward the theater’s $10,000 goal. 

“People have been a little confused over whether this is about saving Theatre Vertigo or saving the Shoebox,” new company member Adriana Gantzer (who’s currently doing fine work in Fuse Theatre Ensemble’s A View From the Bridge) said in a phone interview. “I think really it’s both. We don’t have the funds to cover November and December rent; we’ve been scraping it together every month.”

Beyond the immediate financial crunch, the company has its sights on creating a process for long-term tracking and management of grant applications and business donations, the sort of administrative and fiscal infrastructure that’s been hard to establish in a company with shoestring budgets, mostly volunteer labor (beyond production casts and crews) and frequent burnout-induced turnover.

In her note on the GoFundMe page, and over the phone, Gantzer sounds passionate about the unique value she sees in the company, in its “edgier, intimate shows” and “dedicated and motivated” people. Asked if the loss of the Shoebox Theatre, where Vertigo has performed since the 2013 closing of the larger Theater! Threatre!, would mean the end of Theatre Vertigo her enthusiasm wanes.

“I think so. I know I personally wouldn’t be up for going forward, having to search for places to perform, on top of everything else…It is dire.” 

Opening

Profile Theatre’s Josh Hecht directs The Baltimore Waltz, Paula Vogel’s farcical tragi-comic tribute to her brother, who died of AIDS-related complications in the 1980s. A cast featuring 

Joshua Weinstein and Jen Rowe is reason enough to put this on your list.


Milagro’s annual production in celebration of Día de Muertos takes a romantic tack this year with Amor Anejo, conceived and directed by the fiercely talented Elizabeth Huffman. Longtime lovers encounter an underworld shapeshifter and, as the theater puts it, “we find ourselves in the space where the living and the dead co-exist, where all the loves of our lives, romantic, paternal, filial, and friendly, complicated, wound, and nourish us. Where memories never fade –where love never dies.”

Quick hits

Lakewood Theatre continues its Lost Treasures Collection — concert/cabaret-style presentations of lesser-known musicals — with The High Life. Written in 1961 (when it appeared under the title The Gay Life), by Fay and Michael Kanin (book), Howard Dietz (lyrics) and Arthur Schwartz (music),  it’s about a Viennese lady’s man in 1904, attempting to tame his philandering ways and settle down (“I’m finished with love. I’m going to get married”). Broadway World has called it “a champagne cocktail of a musical” and an “overlooked charmer.”


Also keeping the calendar full at the lovely Lakewood Center for the Arts, singer-actors Jan Koenig and Lisa Knox, backed by a top-flight jazz trio, present their cabaret-style show Here We Go Again.

Closing

For athletes, pre-game warm-ups may not be the main event, but they can be crucial. So it is with The Wolves, the terrific Sarah DeLappe play still on the stage — or is it the pitch? — at Portland Playhouse. Telling a story about the members of a girls’ indoor-soccer team through the tumbling conversations as they prepare for matches, the play’s winning naturalism provides what feels like real insight into the personality development, group dynamics and social hierarchies of young women as they grapple with the ethical and emotional conundrums of finding a place in the world. Adolescence may be their warm-up to adulthood, but the moment-by-moment experience of it can be just as impactful and important as what it’s presaging. 

We came to play! The Wolves warm up at Portland Playhouse. Photo: Brud Giles.

Directed by Jessica Wallenfels, the Playhouse production strikes a deft balance between the activity and physical immediacy that the story’s setting demands and the nuanced movement of ideas and relationships that plays out in the dialogue. With teamwork as one of its thematic centers, the play is very much ensemble oriented, and the cast is uniformly engaging, offering a variety of stereotype-avoiding portrayals. Even so, Kailey Rhodes shines brightest as #46 (the characters almost always refer to each other by jersey number, not name), the team’s socially maladroit but athletically skilled newcomer, her expressions speaking volume about the painful challenges of fitting in. 

It’s a wonderful show. Catch it if you can.


I neglected to catch The Dope Elf when it was presented for two weekends last month, both onstage at Yale Union and livestreamed to the art center’s website. So, sorry, I can’t tell you if this “non-narrative…investigation into present, ancestral, and imagined experience” concerns an elf that is stupid, an elf that is stylish in a 1990s hip-hop kind of way, or, possibly, no elf at all. In any case, this work by interdisciplinary artist/writer Asher Hartman and his Gawdafful National Theater completes its Portland run with another three-performance cycle this weekend. 

Best line I read this week

“‘Why did Shakespeare never write a play about Merlin?’ said Henrietta.

‘Because Shakespeare was Merlin,’ said Uncle Theo.”

— from the novel The Nice and the Good, by Iris Murdoch


That’s all I have for now. I’ll try to do better the next time. 

MusicWatch Weekly: Getting creative

Third Angle welcomes Oregonian composers home, Creative Music Guild improvises

The best and worst thing about Portland audiences is that they really, really listen to the music. At rock shows like the one your night owl music editor attended Tuesday night at Southeast’s Bit House Saloon, the audience stood around intently focused on listening to loud, thrashing, doomy punk and metal. It’s pretty much always like this at bar shows in this rainy, hoodied town: one hand cradling a glass, the other loosely plunged into one pocket, earplugs in, heads bobbing, but usually no dancing, no mosh pits, no movement from anyone but the musicians. Moving around too much would get you all sweaty and uncomfortable. And besides, you’re here to listen to some damn music.

Meanwhile, across town at the venerable Schnitz, enthusiastic audients got shushed for applauding the first movement of Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England last Sunday. Have a listen to that beautiful barnstormer of luscious melodic overload for yourself:

Ah, but it’s only the first of three movements, so the scattered applause didn’t really take off. It’s always a little embarrassing when this happens. There are valid psychoacoustic reasons for not applauding between movements, but it’s also sad to hear spontaneous joy being stifled.

Anyways, it was the only low point of a wonderful concert full of melodic bliss and rhythmic verve. Three Places and Stravinsky’s Firebird are both swarming with melodies, mostly borrowed from hymns and other folk musics, all given the Modern Classical twist: everything all at once in rhythmic counterpoint and overwhelming panmelodic delight. Andy Akiho’s Percussion Concerto was sandwiched tastily between these, a new work in the Ives-Stravinsky vein, comfortable treating melody and harmony and rhythm and color and texture as isomorphic layers of some Hermetic miracula rei unius.

You’ll hear all about this concert from Charles Rose in his mid-season write-up, but there’s one detail from the concerto I’d like to share with you. After the full Ives (and consequent burst of licit applause), Currie took his place before the table of ceramic bowls Akiho carefully selected for the first movement and started doing his four-chopstick thing. About halfway through, some weird new timbre joined in: a boingy metal Chinese Opera gong kind of sound, interlocking with the shiny ceramic bowl riffs, another layer of springy rhythmic counterpoint running through the catchy-as-hell melodic ceramica. The sproinging sound was nothing more than a pair of shallow metal bowls, flipped upside down in between the ceramic bowls, as you can see in this photo taken by principal cellist Nancy Ives:

Tuned ceramic bowls, untuned metal bowls, chopsticks. Photo by Nancy Ives.

No place like home

We here at Arts Watch feel it is our right and duty to demand local music, which is why we love hearing composers like Akiho come here to compose concertos for the Oregon Symphony. And we’re especially blessed to have a variety of local choirs and chamber groups commissioning and performing music by Oregon composers – consider Fear No Music, Resonance Ensemble, Oregon Repertory Singers, Foris Choir, and Third Angle New Music.

This week, Oregonianhood is the focus of 3A’s “Homecomings” concerts at Southeast Portland’s New Expressive Works on the 17th and 18th, featuring music by several composers who live in Oregon, or come from Oregon, or have some connection to the state. The concerts feature premieres of new music by Aaron Helgeson, Phil Taylor, Lisa Neher, and Mario Díaz, alongside works by Andrea Reinkemeyer, Fear No Music artistic director Kenji Bunch, and Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford. Díaz himself plays guitar, 3A Artistic Director Sarah Tiedemann plays flute, Valdine Mishkin plays cello (no singing this time, probably), and Chris Whyte–one quarter of Portland Percussion Group–plays percussion.

But if you’re going to play old music, it might as well be Bach. Argentine-American violinist Tomas Cotik has played plenty of Piazzolla since he’s been in Portland, but often seems more at home with composers of the Austrian-German tradition, and on the 19th he celebrates the release of his new album of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin with a concert of same in PSU’s Lincoln Recital Hall.

Creative Music

Another local music org championing homebrewed music: Creative Music Guild, whose annual Improvisation Summit of Portland is happening right now and continues through Sunday.

CMG’s shows usually pair local and touring musicians, and this week’s string of concerts is no exception. The highlight for me is multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, whom I first heard playing Pythagorean fretless bass grooves in Californian composer Trey Spruance’s mystical rhythm-and-intonation band Secret Chiefs 3.

On the 17th at Holocene (tonight!), Ismaily plays synthesizer with Fripptastic Portland guitarist Ryan Miller’s Embedded Star Ensemble on a concert with Portland synthesizerist Saloli and Brooklyn-based saxophonist-composer Darius Jones. Tomorrow, on Friday the 18th at the S1 gallery and synth library on Northeast Sandy, Ismaily performs in a trio with Portland drummer John Niekrasz and Oliveros-trained sound artist Ayako Kataoka. Also on the bill: more saxophonists, including Sexmob’s Briggan Krauss and Vancouver’s Keith Wecker; Brooklyn guitarist Max Kutner; and Portland electronicists Crystal Cortez and Jamondria Marnice Harris. And if you’ve been waiting all year for CMG’s infamous Annual Improvised Round Robin Duets, this is the show you want to be at.

Saturday, at Northeast Portland’s darling Leaven Community Center, it’s the Extradition Series Fall Concert. The present author might be spotted at this one, becoming Part of the Story and reading aloud from Jack London’s White Fang in Luke Nickel’s White Fang Field Recording. The rest of the show is classic Extradition: experimental music composed by Toshi Ichiyanagi, Sarah Hughes, Matthias Kaul, and Daniel James Wolf, performed by the faithfully adventurous Extradition crew on guitar, dobro, flute, voice, piano and other percussion, metronomes apparently, and all manner of electronics.

The Summit closes with Sunday brunch at The 1905. Like all Portland brunches, the festivities extend until nearly midnight, with touring and local bands getting jazz all over your pizza and cocktails. On the early 11:30 spot, omnipresent Portland guitarist Mike Gamble and drummer Daniel Rossi back Portland Jazz Composer Ensemble trumpeter Noah Simpson. Round suppertime, Rich Halley’s Outside Music Ensemble brings their miniature big band inside. For my money, this sextet is the band to catch: trumpet, trombone, a pair of saxes (Halley on tenor), and a pair of drummers. You’ll never be sorry for having seen a band with two drummers.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: past imperfect, present tense

In the Northwest, images of horror and hope from the past and present. Plus a West Side story, a flamenco flourish, and a divine voice.

ARTSWATCH IS ABOUT ARTS AND CULTURE IN OREGON: It’s embedded in our name. But culture is a fluid thing, coming at us from all corners of the world, and, through our libraries and museums and musical notations, from the enduring fragments of previous times and places. It comes to us. We go to it. Everything mingles in the process. One of our number is on the nothern tip of the Olympic Peninsula right now, a ferry ride across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, where depending on the weather she might be greeted on the shoreline by a bagpiper in a kilt (although the Unipiper remains a resolutely Portlandian attraction, rain or shine, sleet or snow). Another ArtsWatcher is working her way across Andalucia, taking hundreds of pictures as she goes. Our music editor is settling back into the gentle rains of the Pacific Northwest after a sojourn in Bali with some masters of the gamelan.  

Parmigianino, Antea, ca. 1535, oil on canvas, 53.7 x 33.8 inches, Museo di Capodimonte, Naples; at the Seattle Art Museum through Jan. 26, 2020.

On occasion we indulge in a quick trip north to Seattle, and in case you do the same, you might want to drop in on the Seattle Art Museum, where the exhibition Flesh & Blood: Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum opens today and hangs around through January 26. It time-travels through Renaissance and Baroque Europe, and includes 39 paintings and a single sculpture from the collections of the Naples museum.

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Go West, young fans

Stumptown Stages’ energetic, exhilarating production of "West Side Story" makes some missteps but still has the moves.

In the most iconic scene from West Side Story, Tony, the show’s neo-Romeo, climbs a ladder to a fire escape where Maria, his Juliet, awaits. By now, it’s an overly familiar moment, but Stumptown Stages’ production of the 1957 Leonard Bernstein-scored musical, in the Winningstad Theatre through Oct. 27, injects it with fresh visual life. As Tony (Alexander Trull) ascends toward Maria (Tina Mascaro), lights illuminate his silhouette on a vast backdrop that features a sweeping cityscape. It’s as if Tony’s passion has given him the power to soar among the skyscrapers of Manhattan.

West Side Story struts maximalist energy and visual appeal in a production from Stumptown Stages. Photo: Paul Fardig.

That image beautifully taps into the play’s maximalist appeal. Nothing in West Side Story—not love, not friendship, not anger—is small. The production’s director, Patrick Nims, understands that, and while his retelling is occasionally unsteady (especially when it attempts to blunt the accusations of racism leveled at the play), it is also energetic and exciting enough to entice newcomers and charm steadfast fans.

West Side Story almost wasn’t west at all. An early iteration called East Side Story applied the Romeo and Juliet model to a romance between a Catholic boy and a Jewish girl. Eventually, the title changed and the story was restyled as a tale of turf warfare between between an Anglo gang (the Jets) and a Puerto Rican gang (the Sharks). When Tony, a former Jet, and Maria, whose brother leads the Sharks, fall in love at a dance, they face the wrath of both sides.

It’s notable that the title of the play is not Tony and Maria. West Side Story is about a place as much as it is about people. You watch not only to savor the heat generated by its amped-up lovers, but for the privilege of spending time in a gleefully exaggerated version of New York where true love can be ignited with a single look and meaningless grudges are imbued with mythic grandeur.

Alexander Trull as Romeo…er, Tony, and Tina Mascaro as Juliet…no, sorry, Maria, in West Side Story at the Winningstad. Photo: Paul Fardig.

Scenic designer Demetri Pavlatos has tapped into the (very) heightened realism in the play by crafting a set that evolves dramatically. A chain-link fence, for instance, isn’t just a background detail—it’s a living object that can be used as a symbolic barrier between the Jets and the Sharks or as a cage that encircles Tony and Maria, signaling their inevitable doom.

While Pavlatos’ designs are an effective update, the overall production is not. West Side Story has received justifiable criticism for its racist depiction of Puerto Ricans as generic hoodlums, a problem that Nims tries to confront by staging some scenes and songs in Spanish. While the production’s commitment to authenticity is admirable, its lack of subtitles will be frustrating for audiences who don’t speak Spanish. Not understanding what many of the characters are saying means that we become less engaged with their stories, which undercuts the play’s idealistic goal: to reveal the shared humanity on both sides of the Jets-Sharks divide.

This change doesn’t ruin the play. It simply exists alongside the production’s superior creative choices, just as the script’s insensitivities exist alongside its dramatic power. For now, West Side Story isn’t going anywhere—a new film adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg will be released in 2020. That may be the moment when many people decide whether the play is ripe for further reinventions or should finally be set aside.


Coast calendar: Calling all artists, and arts lovers

Lincoln City seeks new public art; Sitka Center holds a fundraiser; Floyd Skloot reads from his new book; and Cannon Beach celebrates stormy weather

If you’ve ever driven through Lincoln City on a summer day, it will come as no surprise that every year 8.8 million vehicles travel that stretch of U.S. 101. While that may be discouraging news if you’re sitting in traffic, it’s no doubt heartening to artists who’d like their roadside work to be seen. That the opportunity to do so comes with a commission of up to $120,000 only sweetens the prize.

Lincoln City’s roster of public art includes the Community Center’s swimming tile mural by Ted and Judith Schlicting. The city is seeking proposals from artists to craft a piece for the new Cultural Plaza.
Lincoln City’s roster of public art includes the Community Center’s tile mural by Ted and Judith Schlicting. The city is seeking proposals from artists to craft a piece for the new Cultural Plaza.

Lincoln City is offering one artist the chance to craft the first major piece of art to be installed in the new Lincoln City Cultural Plaza. But don’t spend too much time thinking about it. The deadline for proposals is Nov. 1. Get your request for qualifications (RFQ) here.  

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Calendar: Fiber arts, author talks, musical theater and whimsical cello

It's a busy month in Yamhill County, with art openings, open mics, author readings, romantic comedy, and music ranging from chamber to Latin jazz

It’s one of those weeks that illustrates the rich artistic and cultural opportunities that abound even in small Oregon towns — a reminder that one need not live in Portland to see good shows and films or hear authors speak. Let’s get to it, in more or less chronological order:

CURRENTS GALLERY IN DOWNTOWN McMINNVILLE just closed a show displaying the work of many fiber artists, only to follow it with another featuring the work of a single artist. Marlene Eichner, one of the gallery’s many owners, unveiled Just Say Sew on Monday, featuring one-of-a-kind wall hangings, pillows, purses, and screens. Stylistically, the collection is all over the map, ranging from the extremes of abstract and realism, and made using an equally diverse range of techniques. I popped in briefly during the installation and was struck by the painterly look of the pieces. The show runs through Nov. 10. A reception is scheduled during McMinnville’s 3rd on 3rd art and wine walk.

"Happy Place," by Marlene Eichner, was made with mosaic and applique techniques and is based on a watercolor by an artist friend, Joan Weins. Eichner calls it a "stylized representational landscape." Photo courtesy: Marlene Eichner
“Happy Place,” by Marlene Eichner, is made with mosaic and applique techniques and is based on a watercolor by an artist friend, Joan Weins. Eichner calls it a “stylized representational landscape.” Photo courtesy: Marlene Eichner

Eichner has been working with fabrics most of her life. Her mother made all her clothes through high school, and she made her own clothes and dolls in junior high home-economics classes. She has a degree in English literature and worked in California’s public sector after her daughter was born, while continuing to dabble in various artistic forms.

“When I retired at 54, I returned to my sewing roots and started a serious cottage industry, merging art and fabric,” she said. “I have made everything conceivable with fabric, including purses, pillows, banners, room screens, etc., starting with traditional projects and styles and gradually gaining confidence to evolve into serious fine art.”

Marlene Eichner unveiled her new fabric show at Currents Gallery in McMinnville this week. The show runs through Nov. 10. Photo by: David Bates
Marlene Eichner unveiled her new fabric show at Currents Gallery in McMinnville this week. The show runs through Nov. 10. Photo by: David Bates

She focuses on wall pieces using not only traditional quilting/piecing techniques, applique, and mosaic, but also incorporating free-style, free-motion machine thread-painting, and embroidery.  “My interest is in the interplay of light and color when using disparate fabrics to form a cohesive finished product,” she said. “So I play with many genres, from very abstract pieces, to both stylized and detailed representational pieces.”

Eichner said she uses either the highest quality fabric she can find, or she makes it herself in one of three ways: She’ll photocopy items such as textured paper and plant material, scan, and even manipulate them digitally, and then print on treated fabric.

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Being the song

Anne Sofie von Otter and Kristian Bezuidenhout show Schubert’s classical roots at Friends of Chamber Music concert and masterclass

By KATIE TAYLOR

When pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout launched into the fourth and final song in Swedish mezzo soprano Anne Sofie von Otter’s opening Mozart set at her Friends of Chamber Music Vocal Arts Series recital last week, I thought, “that sounds like Schubert.” With its rolling arpeggios, Mozart’s “An Chloë” irresistibly brough to mind Schubert’s “Das Wandern,” which opens his famous song cycle Die schöne Müllerin. That wasn’t an accident.

This beautifully crafted program began with Mozart, progressed seamlessly into Schubert through a classical lens and ended with Schubert’s romantic side. The effect worked in both directions, revealing intriguing hints of a view forward to early romanticism in late Mozart and showing Schubert’s classical roots with a clarity that was wholly surprising to a listener accustomed to the more barn-burning approach many singers take to his songs. 

The program made a side trip midway to listen in on Schubert’s Swedish contemporaries, Adolf Fredrik Lindblad and Franz Berwald, and von Otter’s lyrical art song sets were thoughtfully interwoven with solo turns by Bezuidenhout.

The pairing of singer and accompanist couldn’t have been more perfect. Both artists combined relaxed, spontaneous delivery with meticulous attention to detail and delivery that was never anything less than divinely subtle.

Anne Sofie von Otter and Kristian Bezuidenhout at Friends of Chamber Music concert October 2019. Photo courtesy of FOCM.
Anne Sofie von Otter and Kristian Bezuidenhout at Friends of Chamber Music concert October 2019. Photo courtesy of FOCM.

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