Each spring for two decades, artists Carl Palazzolo and the late Stephen Mueller would come to Charleston during the Spoleto Festival and — when not visiting friends and going to performances — settled into the first floor of David and Carol Rawle’s downtown home to make art.
Each year the Rawles picked paintings the pair had created to keep, and several years ago it dawned on David Rawle that this continuous body of work would make a great exhibition. The result is The Spoleto Watercolors of Stephen Mueller and Carl Palazzolo consisting of about 35 small, semi-abstract paintings on display at the Gibbes Museum of Art through Sept. 15. The exhibition is located in two rooms off the museum rotunda area, with each artist getting one of the rooms.
One morning during this year’s Spoleto Festival, Palazzolo was — as he has been for so many years — at a worktable in the Rawle’s Anson Street home working away. The historic surroundings, colors of buildings and flowers, the humidity, the music they’d hear and dance they’d see all went into making the paintings.
“The biggest impact on my work was the color,” Palazzo says. “My work generally isn’t as high key — the grays became more lavender, the greens deeper.”
“I think these are very distinctive from what we did in the rest of our lives,” continues the artist, who has shown continuously over the past 40 years, including in the Whitney Biennial. “We always referred to them as the ‘Spoleto watercolors’ and the majority of watercolors we did were done in Charleston.”
In his works Palazzolo juxtaposes abstract images and rich color fields with trompe l’oeil techniques and collage — or what looks like collage, but is not. Mueller’s paintings, often inspired by his interest in Eastern philosophy, feature references to mandalas and bodhisattva figures, and mix delicate washes of color with sharp contrasts and simplified shapes.
The idea for the show was the idea of David Rawle, founder of Rawle Murdy, a marketing and public relations company who met the artists in New York during the 1970s.
“They were scattered all over the house so it was hard to tell just how many we had,” he says. “I just thought ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to see them all together?’” He approached Gibbes Museum Director Angela Mack and Spoleto Festival General Director Nigel Redden, who were both supportive of the exhibition.
The first time Palazzolo saw all the work together was when it was installed at the museum.
“It was overwhelming and pretty emotional,” he says, especially in light of Mueller’s death in late 2011. “We really wanted to make this happen when he was still with us, but it was not to be.”
The Spoleto springtime sojourns have provided a fountain of creativity and a break from the urban life they were living in New York.
“We’d get up and work in the morning with nothing on our mind except where to get lunch, visit friends, and go to performances at night,” Palazzolo says. “Every year in Charleston has been like the perfect residency.”
The New York Times just published an article on the many incarnations of A Midsummer Night's Dream that are making the festival rounds this summer, and Bristol Old Vic's is one of them. We know it wasn't exactly a hit with our Spoleto overview critic, and the bare-bottomed Bottom scared away several patrons at the performance I saw, but still.
Check out what director Tom Morris had to say about the show at the bottom of the first page.
I feel fortunate to end my time at the festival writing about Charles Wadsworth, founder of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the informal mid-day concerts at the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy, and the Spoleto Festival USA Chamber Series. From its founding in 1977 until he stepped down in 2009, Wadsworth directed and hosted the series at the Dock Street Theatre.
Saturday he came back, making one of his three final public performances (the other two are Sunday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.) Coming out on stage, he tottered a bit and he fumbled around with his reading glasses. But his wit is still intact and after getting his glasses on he announced "84 IS 84."
Then he sat at the piano and played Poulenc's Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon. And as he has so many times before, he played it well.
It’s about 11:30 Friday night and I’m wrapping up my final full day at the festival.
As you know the day dawned with nasty weather, but got better; for me, as the weather got better the art declined a bit.
I started in the late morning with the Happy Music for a Crappy Day concert at the Dock Street Theatre - fun and sunny music by Darius Milhaud, Jean-Marie LeClair, Benjamin Britten, and Haydn blew away the storm.
The Milhaud consisted of eight little — and I do mean little, as in about 37 seconds long — pieces played by guys who like to hang out and play this sort of thing for fun: James Austin Smith on oboe, Todd Palmer on clarinet, and Peter Kolkay on bassoon. And they did have fun.
The LeClair was a sonata for two violins (Daniel Phillips and Livia Sohn), a lively Baroque period piece that you could dance to.
The Britten Phantasy Quartet was written in 1932 when the composer was only 19 and is one of his many works featuring the oboe (Smith again, who is the most chill oboe player I’ve ever seen) although the rest of the crew (cello, violin, and viola) get to do some cool things as well. The opening themes are broken down and come back in various guises and while the “Phantasy” of the title may seem to imply casualness, the piece has a very tight structure. That kid Britten was good.
Haydn’s Symphony in F major, No. 94 is well-known, especially by its more informal name “The Surprise Symphony.” The piece goes along nice and calmly, lulling the listener, then — bang, everything comes charging in. It’s said Haydn did this to wake up London audiences who tended to fall asleep during the slow movements and chamber series host Geoff Nuttall encouraged those in the Dock Street to do the same. In this arrangement for chamber group, the “surprise” isn’t all that loud (maybe they should have brought percussionist Steven Schick back for this one), but by that time the concert was wrapping up and the sun had come out.
Since the sun was out and I didn’t have to be anywhere for a bit, I ducked into the Robert Lange Studio gallery where I was completely taken with the paintings by an artist new to the gallery, Michelle Jader. The paintings of figures in motion are done on several layers of stacked sheets of acrylic which reveal the images beneath, as if through a thick fog. It sounds a little gimmicky, but the paintings are excellently executed and honest.
In spite of an extremely annoying technical glitch, the final Music in Time concert turned out to be one of the best in this year’s very good series. This one, like most of the others, spotlighted members of the festival orchestra.
The concert opened with Missy Mazzoli’s Death Valley Junction (for string quartet), inspired by an old opera house she came across in the desert. The 2010 piece was commissioned by Santa Fe New Music, which Spoleto resident conductor and founder of Music in Time John Kennedy runs. I’ve been a fan of Mazzoli’s for a few years, due in part to performances of her work in Columbia as part of the Southern Exposure new music series and the S.C. Philharmonic, but if I’m not mistaken it’s never before been played at Spoleto. Death Valley is both driving and expansive, giving a sense of the open space of the desert, but also the strange setting of an opera house in the middle of nowhere.
Poor clarinet player and composer Gleb Kanasevich couldn’t get the computer to kick in so he could play his piece for clarinet and “tape.” If it had been for actual “tape” he wouldn’t have had to mess around with the computer for more than five minutes before finally giving up and the concert moving on. He came back later with a more cooperative computer and amazing technique — all was forgiven.
Vibraphone player George Nickson took charge performing a moderately interesting solo piece by his friend from music school Andreia Pinto-Correia. He and violinist Samantha Bennett really soared on Paul Lansky’s Hop. Nickson was also impressive in talking eloquently about the piece while moving gears around the stage.
Thinking I might have to leave early to go to another event, I moved to the back of the hall just before the performance of In a Spring Garden by Toshio Hosokawa, composer of this year’s new opera Matsukaze.
It’s a calm, beautiful meditative piece, but not simplistic. I’m very happy I stayed.
Had just enough time to run up to the Rebekah Jacobs Gallery for a look at a Southern photography show. It includes about a dozen small color photos by William Christenberry of the wonderful sort he’s been shooting in his native Alabama for decades, along with large landscape images of South Carolina by Eliot Dudik and of the Mississippi Delta by Kathleen Robbins, both who teach at the University of South Carolina.
Then it was back to the College of Charleston for Indian dance by Shantala Shivalingappa and her musicians (vocals, percussion, flute) who were at the festival in 2008. I was only able to stay for half the show, seeing a dance to Ganesha, one to Shiva, and an amazing drum piece that Steve Reich fans would have appreciated. So I don’t think I got the full impact of the performance.
What prompted me to leave early was something I’d stumbled upon after last Sunday’s Music in Time concert featuring composer and musician Nathan Davis. While I was researching his work, I discovered that he had written music for The Other Mozart, which was going to be performed as part of Piccolo. (Neither Spoleto nor Piccolo mentioned this overlap in any of their materials.) So I messed around with my schedule to make it fit. Davis co-wrote incidental music for the one-woman play about Wolfgang Mozart’s older sister Maria Anna “Nannerl,” herself a precocious prodigy who at a 10 years old toured Europe playing concerts with her brother and father.
The music and sound effects are effective, but the writing and performance by Sylvia Milo are not. For most of the play, she’s planted at the center of the stage surrounded by papers (letters and notices praising her and her brother, letters the two of them exchange about troubles, excitement, opportunities, boredom) spread out around her and a sort of dress form, all of which are used for a pretty visual effect at the end.
The play makes the probably accurate and rather obvious point that Nannerl is forgotten because she was a woman trying to operate in a world dominated by men. The play undermines this very point by speaking about a very famous woman composer and performer from that period. And it could be that her brother was a genius and she was not (which the play also acknowledges.) Maybe a little fiction would have come in handy in writing this play. The biggest flaw is that it does what it accuses history of doing — after the mid-point, it focuses more on Wolfgang than Nannerl, perpetuating the very issue it was trying to solve.
After attending the first part of Intergalactic Nemesis, I felt my time could be better spent doing something other than seeing part two of that unimaginative production. Almost anything else.
So I ducked in to hear the amazing sounds of Brazilian guitar and clarinet duo Alessandro Penezzi and Alexandre Ribeiro. The two friendly looking guys just burned up their instruments with fleet fingers performing original work as well as pieces by some of Brazil’s many well-known composers.
I can’t say I’m all that familiar with this sort of music, but the duo is both technically accomplished and bring real personality to the music.
Every once in a while Penezzi would pick up a microphone and announce the names of the pieces and say a little about them, but his English is very limited and he struggled to make himself clear. But that just added to the charm of the concert.
Something I really should have already had on my calendar was the final appearance at the festival of one of its leading lights, Joseph Flummerfelt, director of choral activities since the festival was founded and with the Italian Festival before that. He gave himself a fitting sendoff with Verdi’s Messa Da Requiem, conducting the festival orchestra, the Westminster Choir, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Chorus, and four soloist in a huge, moving performance as the storm raged outside. The TD Arena became a very sacred space for this massive, monumental work.
The concert attracted many people from around the globe who had studied with Flummerfelt. At a party for him afterward, still going strong around midnight, the place was packed with alumni from many decades and he led them in a song. Lots of tears.
I probably should have gone to the Requiem after going to the one-man (plus an uncomfortable volunteer) show Bullet Catch. Because midway through this show of so-so magic tricks, sketchy history of the infamous trick, and distractions, I wanted them to just bring out the gun and shoot me.