Sunday, December 01, 2013

Will it be Food Pics or Cat Pics that Take Over the Internet?

I've noticed that there is some annoyance out there in the social media world towards people who take pictures of their food and share them with the rest of the world.  I understand.  Your life is too full of real things to care about what someone you hardly know had for dinner.  And as is the case with most social media - you didn't ask for the picture - it was thrust upon you as you were innocently scrolling through pictures of babies in their first suspenders and cats who have not only made their owners work for them, but have started a campaign to take over the internet.

I take pictures of my food.  I do so with glee.  GLEE.  And when I post a picture of my food, it is because I'm still savoring it.  I feel like, for me - what my meal looks like represents my current life or state of mind to a certain point.  There are times, honestly, when I think my best foot forward or my most photogenic side is the meal I just created.  It might represent something just for myself - how colorful, or fresh, or gloopy I'm feeling.  And it might represent what I want to convey to the people I'm cooking for - "I'm comfortable with you," "you make me feel warm," or "our weekend is going to be zesty/fiery/rich."

What we eat says so much about us already, and if we're proud or excited to share it, I think those of us that do are sharing something significant of ourselves.  So, go ahead and post those pictures!  (Not like anyone can stop those of us that do!)  I want to see your fancy gougères that you put so much time into.  And I'll probably even give you a thumbs up/heart/like for your peanut butter toast and iced gin at 9pm picture because it says a bit about your day and how you've chosen to celebrate it/wallow/comfort yourself.

So, cheers!

You can find more of my food pictures on instagram and twitter, though I must warn you - I'm also one of those annoying people who posts copious pictures of her dog.

See?  It's because she's SO CUTE!  And I'm sure you think so too!  Right?

Monday, October 07, 2013

Mode - Knoxville: Summer of 1915

I recently went to a somewhat unusual event at the Ruth Page Center for Music and Dance.  The Mode Ensemble - a collection of a dozen or so talented musicians put together an evening of Early American and Civil War Era music in a constant flow of ever-changing ensemble on stage.

Offering era-appropriate food and very sweet cocktails while performers and audience members dressed the part, the evening was a lot of fun and felt transportive.

Ashlee Hardgrave did an excellent job with Alan Louis Smith's Covered Wagon Women Vignettes, and the Prairie Spring, Haymaker's Hoedown and Banjo & Fiddle performances at the end of the first half were energetic and skillfully played.  The second half of the evening though was where all the emotion came out.  Anthony Plog's Songs of War and Loss, sung by ????? (performer's names were not included in the program) was intense and it was followed by a dark reading of a Civil War Soldier's letter over Jay Ungar's Ashokan Farewell (from Ken Burns' documentary on the Civil War).  Copeland's Quiet City and Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 made a fantastic end to a really well-rounded and enjoyable show.

The program could have been more complete and the initial words about the final piece, which lasted a good half hour, could have been left out, but the music was really the important part, and Mode knocked that out of the park.

Happy Birthday, Verdi!

Thursday marks the anniversary of the 200th year since Italian Romantic Operatic composer Verdi was born.  He is most known for his prolific opera composing (averaging one every nine months for a good decade of his life).

His operas are known for their grandiose style with prominent use of the chorus.  He also experimented quite seriously with developing a style of realism or verismo in his music composition.  He did experiment with all types of Italian operatic writing at the time and this can be seen throughout his works.

Many colleges, music festivals, and city orchestras are celebrating Verdi's oeuvre this season with performances, and I recommend checking a couple of them out!

If you're in Chicago, you're in luck.  Yet to be performed is Verdi's Requiem Mass (Thursday @7:30pm, CSO), which can be watched that evening online at (I'm definitely doing that with a glass of wine after work).  The Lyric is doing Verdi's Otello - my favorite of his operas (opened Oct. 5) and La Traviata - another of my favorites and one of his most well-known operas (Opens Nov. 20).   So, Chicagoans - GO!  (For opera neophytes, these are both very accessible and a lot of fun.)

Chicago musicians have been hard at work already though -

I had the pleasure recently of seeing Joan of Arc, performed by the Chicago Opera Theater.  The production was creative - a sect of fundamentalist Christians putting on a play of the famous story,
making the piece more apropos for today's audience.  The baritone was fantastic and the writing for the chorus was perfect and made sense given Verdi's penchant for grandiose declamatory choral writing.  I was having such a good time that I forgot to take notes and the time just flew by!

I also recently had excellent seats to see Macbeth performed without set by the CSO.  Aside from a very strange offstage recording at certain points of
the opera, I was enchanted.  Verdi writes soprano emotion so well - that even without costumes and a set, the listener could feel the palpable anxiety from the vocalists and the orchestra.  I have never heard a better performance of this opera - the cello solo in the third act, the beautiful chorus, and the exquisite and glittering orchestral playing - not to mention the voices made it an amazing evening!

If you've missed the above performances, the CSO, the Chicago Opera Theater, and the Lyric are always top-notch and you can't go wrong in attending a concert.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Picasso and Chicago

It is only on display for the next couple of weeks, but the Art Institute is currently showing a special exhibit on Picasso's works.  Though I wasn't quite on board with the way the exhibit was organized and thought the idea of Picasso's connection with Chicago as a thread through the exhibit was tenuous, you should go.

There were some well-known paintings and sculpture, but a lot of the exhibit was of Picasso's drawings.  Here are some of what I thought were the highlights:

Drawings of a Bull.  There was a big collection of drawings of animals - many of them in a calligraphic style. 

Picasso used typical household goods in many of his works.  This sculpture is created from pots and pans and cake forms.

Lots of drawings with a pastel wash.  I'm particularly fond of the rooster in this one. 

Folk Art - Picasso style!

In the book Gertrude Stein wrote on Picasso in 1938, which I read this week, I learned the following funny story about Picasso:

When he was a young artist, he used to say that it would be so incredible if he were burglarized and someone stole his paintings and drawings (meaning his artwork was worth something).  And so, later on, when he was not an unknown artist, he was in fact burglarized, and the thieves thought only to steal his linens and left his artwork behind.  Fools.

Aside from just the artwork on display, there was a room in the exhibit that included information on learning about authenticity of, history of and the quest to discover the materials used in some of his artwork.  Descriptions of how art experts found out a lot of these things using various x-ray techniques, UV light and such fill one room of the exhibit and made some of the work that these curators do really exciting.  It also reminded me a bit of White Collar, which was fun.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Russian Music Orgy at the CSO

Well, I know where all the high-brow percussionists were last night!  With Mussorgsky's A Night on Bald Mountain, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, and Stravinky's The Rite of Spring on the program, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra dominated its audience with grand crashing chords and lurching anxiety, which made the two hours seem like a quarter that.

The concert hall was pretty full for a Wednesday evening, with attendees of all ages pushing to get their tickets and reach their seats.  Mussorgsky set the tone for the evening - not an evening to sit back and listen, but to sit forward and WATCH.  The stresses and meter in this piece are so uneven and lurching and the swirls of sound that the piece creates got into every corner of the room.  I don't know how anybody could sit comfortably directly behind the orchestra for this program.  There were some excellent clarinet and flute parts (this program was another showcase for the woodwinds), and I think the harp must have been miked because it was a lot more prominent than I was used to... I felt at times that this program was just going for fortissimo oppression of the hall.

I'm pretty sure the entire audience was familiar with everything on the program that evening, so the maestoso first movement of the Tchaikovsky was heard with welcome and relief.  With such a need for precision in the treble and sonority in the bass, I must say that the piano was tuned beautifully.  Performed by 21-year-old Daniil Trifonov, who ambled on stage with gangly limbs and a skateboarder's haircut, I thought, "he's just a kid!" and then ....... he turned into the piece.  Though this famous movement is often looked at as a choppy piece of extreme difficulty, and while this wasn't the cleanest of performances, I thought it was well done, energetic and passionate.  The very clean high trills in the second movement over the waltz-like theme in the orchestra was exquisite and the lively Russian third movement was powerfully played.  This was my favorite part of the evening.

While these days, a standing ovation in the concert hall seems almost required, this time, the audience was rewarded with a flashy encore of the piano version of the Infernal Dance from Stravinsky's Firebird Suite.  I felt like the young pianist was saying, "Oh yeah?  Let's step it up a notch, Chicago.  Here's MY Stravinsky..... let's see what YOU can do!"

And the CSO brought it.  A staple piece that they play well, I felt this time the concert hall was almost unable at times to hold the music in.  Never letting the listener rest for more than a few moments when the solo instruments take over, the orchestra definitely has the capriciousness of this piece down.  Their pesante was nauseatingly so and their take on frantic was almost unbearable.  I hope nobody in the audience came in that evening already anxious.  Bravo.

This concert is being performed again on Saturday evening.  

Also, Happy Birthday, Dad!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Simon Boccanegra at Chicago's Lyric

This October, the Lyric opened Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, an early opera of Verdi's, which satisfies its listeners with Verdi's typical sweeping melodies and word painting.

A story of disaster, ambition, politics and love, the mostly-male cast, with some fabulous bass and baritone voices, tremble with the anger and exasperation in their attempts to get what they want and satisfy their ambitions and vengeance.

The prologue is very tame and opens with pastoral sounds, much like Beethoven's 6th symphony.  The aria by Ferruccio Furlanetto, who plays Maria's father is full, deep and compelling as he emotionally sings such words of vengeance as "my hate will haunt you."  And so the drama begins.

There is a very nice technique used by the Lyric in the production that allows the scene to expand visually by showing action off stage in shadows.  In fact, with several pillars on the sides of the stage, a new backdrop can be placed conveniently behind a pillar to change the scene while not requiring much set changing.

It isn't until Act 1 that we hear a female voice - in a very silly and poetic (yet beautiful) love song.  Despite the fact that there is only heightened emotional frivolity every time Amelia (the sole female character, who is tugged this way and that, with very little control over her fate) opens her mouth in the first half of the opera, Verdi uses his familiar gorgeous melodic shaping so that regular opera-goers don't even need to hear her words to know what Amelia (played by Krassimira Stoyanova) is saying.

While Act 2 brought in the expected "pena" aria and some beautiful singing by tenor Frank Lopardo ("a jealous rage destroyed my reason") the a cappella trio and the end of Act 2 was sudden and uncomfortable.

There is an unusual duet in Act 3 with two very low voices, which reinforces the feel of the opera - that it is tragedy precipitated by men.  The fates and disasters of these men are wound together.  The bipartisanship that Simon Boccanegra (Thomas Hampson) implores his people to adopt must be a lasting topic, and though this opera still took place in 14th century Genoa, it still has appeal to any audience.

Opera-goers at the Lyric are lucky this year to get to experience such a great production with such experienced singers in these rolls.  Thomas Hampson and Ferruccio Furlanetto have made the roles their own and really make the listener feel with their baritone and bass voices the power, anguish and drama of this lasting and noble story.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Lichtenstein at the Art Institute

I'm seeing primary colors everywhere this summer!  The corner of Adams and State is currently engulfed in color and if you like that, keep walking east to the Art Institute, where the first oeuvre exhibit of Lichtenstein is being presented.

We all know him for his large, over-the-top, two dimensional, dotted works on mundane subjects which had his audience questioning the meaning of art.  I admit to not being very moved by his works but I did experience more appreciation for him today when seeing his works laid out like I did.

A few of the highlights for me:

Reclining Nude in Brushstroke Landscape, 1986

Modern Sculpture with Glass Wave, 1967
I thought this looked like a musical instrument

Cubist Stillife, 1974
"The Old Guitarist?"  Cute.

Washington Crossing the Delaware

The exhibit is fun, not too serious or large, and quite accessible.  I'd recommend going!  Then check out the Italian Renaissance and Baroque drawings on the lower level.  Lots of red chalk drawings and some really amazing detail!
And if you want to meet me at the corner of Adams and State for anything besides the Art Institute, we can go shop at Anthropologie and then get a vodka flight at Russian Tea Time!

How do pastels work?!

Today, at the Art Institute of Chicago, I found myself fascinated by pastel technique.  Cross between painting and drawing, pastels give an artist a lot of control over the look and the lines of a work - usually portraits, from what I can tell.

Here are some of the highlights in my opinion:

Charles-Antoine Coypel
"Portrait of Philippe Coypel and his Wife"

Look at the fine detail of the lace, the sheen of the pearls and the texture of the woman's skin.

Rosalba Carriera
"Young Lady with Parrot" 1730
wet chalk and pastels

This is more what I think of when I think of pastels - all the blending, but even still - so much life is able to be put into a pastel work - why don't more people use them?!

Joseph Wright of Derby
"Self Portrait in Fur Cap" 1765/68
 This looks like a photograph to me.  I'm amazed at what the artist was able to achieve here with monochromatic pastels (grisaille).  This is one of my favorites.

Edgar Degas
"On Stage," 1879-81

Confusingly, the plaque next to the painting says that Degas used pastel and essence over monotype on cream laid paper.  Any idea what this essence might be?  Artists out there?  The essence of genius?  I wonder if I can get some of that in powder form - like pixie dust.

In other news:  Consumers can't do math; Financing for the first high-speed rail in the US has been approved; and you might be able to teach yourself synesthesia!

Happy Fourth of July, Everyone!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How We Decide

I just finished the book How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer.  You might know him from the book Proust Was a Neuroscientist, which I absolutely LOVED.  This book was along those lines, but not quite as in depth as I would have liked.

How We Decide turns our attention to what are brains are doing when we are making a decision.  How when we go with our gut, our brains seamlessly provide the excuses for our decision, and how often times our emotions know the answer to a tough problem before our brains have picked up on the reasoning.

Things I learned:
  •  In the long run, randomly selected stock portfolios will beat experts and computer models and the best strategy is to pick a low-cost index fund and wait.  Do nothing.
  • Don't think about the technical aspects of doing what you already know how to do (think playing the piano or playing golf)
  • Too much information in many situations hampers decision making.  Our attention cannot focus on what is important to us and may make decisions on things that SOUND important.
  • Watch out for back surgery.  Most patients get better on their own.
  • Neurons mirror the movements of other people.  If you see someone else smile, then your mirror neurons will light up s if you were smiling.  Isn't that nice?
  • Just looking at a fancy or expensive item without the intent to buy, makes you primed to buy something less expensive.  Window shopping is DANGEROUS.
  • Political pundits are more often wrong than those that don't claim to be experts. (thank goodness!)
While the book really started to get interesting just as I reached the end (and it was hard to tell on my kindle with the footnotes and acknowledgements), I did enjoy it and look forward to reading more about the same subject as well as more by this author.

Things I am going to keep in mind:  I'm going to try to think LESS about the decisions that are very important to me, since my emotions can handle those and I'm going to think MORE [rationally] about the small decisions that don't mean as much to me.  We have to make decisions without all the information and Lehrer advises to always remind ourselves of what we don't know.  I'll let you know how it goes.

(My new favorite quote is now, "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on my dopamine neurons."  Hee hee!  You see.... it's FUNNY.)