Monday, January 31, 2011

January 31

Earl Wild, Gay Pianist
Pianist Earl Wild died a year ago (January 23, 2010). He was one of the greatest virtouso pianists of the 20th century, often compared to Horowitz and Rachmaninov. Openly gay, Wild lived in Palm Springs, California, and Columbus, Ohio, with his domestic partner of 38 years, Michael Rolland Davis. Wild had an outsized talent and played flamboyantly. He specialized in piano transcriptions, performing the music of Lizst and Rachmaninov, but also arranged and composed extensively. In a nod to a fellow gay man, his Piano Sonata (2000) features a 4-minute toccata dedicated to Ricky Martin. Wild’s landmark piano fantasy on themes from Gershwin’s opera,  “Porgy and Bess,” was followed by his own solo piano settings of Rachmaninov and Gershwin songs. Wild lived to the ripe old age of 94. He died at home on January 23, 2010, of congestive heart disease.

Wild  was the first pianist to give a recital on television, in 1939. Nearly sixty years later, in 1997, he gave the first piano recital to be streamed live over the Internet. Over the course of his career, Wild played at the White House, gave annual recitals at Carnegie Hall (always sold out within minutes) and remained active until his final recitals and recordings in 2005.

Wild was also known as a formidable wit and saucy raconteur. When he was interviewed by David Dubal, Mr. Wild was asked about his years of playing flute in the United States Navy Band during World War II (Wild was stationed at a base outside Washington, DC). “Did you see any action?” Mr. Dubal asked. “Only in the cemetery,” Mr. Wild deadpanned.

Wild’s piano arrangement of “Mexican Hat Dance,” recorded at the age of 88! Guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Earl Wild: Etude on Embraceable You (Gershwin)
Performed by Yeol-Eum Son
Wild’s Etudes on Gershwin’s popular songs are becoming staples of concert repertoire, especially as encores. I never thought it possible, but I think this performance actually surpasses Wild’s own interpretation.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

January 29

Gay Sports Team
Chicago Rowing Union

Founded in 2005 by 12 men as a team for Chicago’s Gay Games, Chicago Rowing Union (CRU) is the Midwest's one and only LGBT rowing organization, one of three such clubs in the world (along with Melbourne Australia’s Argonauts and Washington DC’s DC Strokes). Being gay is not a requirement – they are open to all. Originally named Qrew Chicago, the team’s name changed to Chicago Rowing Union in 2009. Their season runs from April through October, with annual winter indoor sessions and competitions in the Midwest, around the nation and even some international races.

Now on to the guys with tan lines.

Friday, January 28, 2011

January 28

Miami's New World Center

It was a great big gay-in at Miami’s New World Center last night. Gay maestro Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the New World Symphony academy orchestra in a new work by openly gay British composer Thomas Adès, accompanied by a film by Israeli/British filmmaker Tal Rosner, who entered into a civil partnership with Adès in 2006. But wait, it still wasn’t gay enough! The closing piece was Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony, which quotes his “Fanfare for the Common Man.” Copland, for those of you who don’t know, was a closeted gay musician, but one of the few composers of his stature to live openly and travel with his lovers, most of whom were talented, much younger men. The concert began with Richard Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman” overture. Wagner was straight, but the über-gay King Ludwig of Bavaria worshiped at his feet, using funds from the royal treasury to build him an opera house and a lavish villa in Bayreuth. Wagner made a career of stringing him along. The only thing missing was a procession of rainbow flags across the stage. But there was another bond. Copland was Jewish, architect Frank Gehry is Jewish, and Michael Tilson Thomas is the grandson of Yiddish theater stars. Just to toss water onto the flames, it must be noted that Wagner was notoriously antisemitic.

The stunning concert hall interior is surprisingly small, seating about 750. I had a back row seat but was only 13 rows from the stage. The seating is stadium style, steeply terraced, so all seats have excellent sight lines. The stage is also terraced in a curved shape, with various heights controlled by hydraulic lifts. The seats are upholstered in a blue fabric woven with white puffy clouds (I'm not making this up). The seats are in two shades of blue, so there is a certain snaggle-toothed appearance when they are not occupied -- two or three together are turquoise, then another two or three in a darker blue -- a bit like the Disney Concert Hall in L.A.

There is a rooftop terrace with boffo views of the skyline, ocean and Biscayne Bay. I like this building better than the Disney Hall, also designed by Gehry, who turns 83 next week. Here the building is conventionally shoe-box shaped on the outside, with startling free-form boxes, swoops and curves inside. In LA the exterior is metal clad and free form, much like the Guggenheim in Bilbao, but the interior is more traditional. I'm sure the Miami plan was the result of budget constraints; the whole shebang cost only $165 million, including 30 rehearsal spaces, the parking garage and 2.5 acre park along Washington St. The concert hall ceiling is angled and boasts giant convex curved panels that resemble sails. The second piece on the program, “Polaris,” by Thomas Adès, used these to stunning effect when moving images of clouds, waves, women walking along a beach, bubbles and the like appeared. The music sounded like a not unpleasant exercise of short snatches of musical fragments repeated over and over -- it never really went anywhere, but that's the trend in modern serious music (I blame John Adams). One thing for sure, it was LOUD! For this 12-minute commission, brass players were placed on railed platforms at the back of the stage and up in the balconies to great stereophonic advantage. The effect was unlike any concert experience of my life, and a likely harbinger of the future of serious music concerts.

Friday will be the first use of the 80-foot tall simulcast Hi-Def screen covering the north-east side of the exterior, to the accompaniment of nearly 200 speakers that spread the sound to the audience outside. If anything will get younger butts into the seats of a concert hall, it will be Maestro Thomas and his high-tech New World Center.

But I digress.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

January 26

Gay slurs? They can cost you.

Last autumn luxury car maker Jaguar cut its sponsorship of star Australia swimmer Stephanie Rice, a triple Olympic gold medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, after she sent a tweet using a gay slur. After Australia's rugby union team, the Wallabies, defeated South Africa's Springboks, Rice tweeted "Suck on that, faggots."

The 22-year-old swimmer, who won both individual medleys at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was part of Australia's victorious 4x200 freestyle team, later apologized and removed the comment, but the damage had been done.

Perhaps the most vocal anger came from Australian gay rugby icon Ian Roberts, who said, "She is an idiot ...and anyone who continues to endorse her as an athlete is an idiot as well. And I say that with a very sad tone in my voice. What a fool. And if her sponsors don't do something about it, they're fools as well...I also like seeing Australians do well, but it is never acceptable to offend and insult gay people by using such slurs."

In fact, Jaguar general manager Kevin Goult announced that his company had withdrawn its sponsorship. "Jaguar Australia today terminated its relationship with Stephanie Rice, who has been an ambassador for the Jaguar brand in Australia since the start of 2010," he said in a press release. Local media reported that Rice would be losing the late-model +$100,000 Jaguar that she had been driving since striking the deal (shown in photo above). Ouch.

Back to the boys with tan lines.