What a year! Looking back and ahead in the arts

View of the CSO performing a livestreamed concert in Nov. 2020

I’ll never forget the fear in the eyes of both performers and audience members in the first few live, indoor performances I saw in the early months of the pandemic in 2020. We were masked, spaced vastly apart and there was no intermission to avoid viral spread. Otherwise, many performances were livestreamed online, with musicians masked and separated by space and screens.

Then in 2021, as vaccines became available and theaters began to reopen to full audiences, there was elation and relief by many who were able to finally attend a show in person.

Every concert, play, ballet or art exhibition I attended in 2021 was deeply moving because it showed the perseverance of artists — indeed of all humanity — during this unprecedented time. I feel that we’ve come a long way.

Now, we are buffeted again by the Omicron variant. Just announced, there are at least two museum “pauses” (Cincinnati Art Museum is closed Jan. 3-12 and the Taft Museum of Art is closed Jan. 3-13).

“Hairspray” is postponed to a later date due to Covid in the cast.

There are also a few postponed performances. At the Aronoff Center, “Hairspray” scheduled to play January 4 – 9, 2022 is being rescheduled due to breakthrough positive Covid cases within the company of “Hairspray.” Ticket holders are encouraged to hold onto their tickets while the engagement is being rescheduled.

At Music Hall, the Vocal Arts Ensemble of Cincinnati is postponing its January 8 and 9 performances of “The Song Among Us” to a later date, to be announced. The release states that the postponement “is prompted by production challenges exacerbated by the recent rise in positive Covid cases across the nation.” Ticket holders may complete this form or call the box office at 513-381-3300 for ticket options, including donations, exchanges, and refunds.

I prefer to see the glass half full.  I believe we will get through this, and the arts will persevere.

Singers Michelle DeYoung and Sean Panikkar share bows in Mahler’s “The Song of the Earth” with the CSO. (Photo by Lee Snow)

I wrote a list of some of my favorite performances in 2021 in a column for the Business Courier. My list begins with Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in Music Hall last March, and ends with “The Marriage of Figaro” at CCM in November. I’d like to know some of yours, too. (Let me know here, or on Facebook.)

And looking ahead, here is my list of “best bets” in 2022. It’s really just a broad sweep — because there are so many chamber music, vocal concerts, art exhibitions and dance performances that have yet to be announced. I think we have a lot to anticipate.

Verdi’s opulent “Aida” will be presented at Cincinnati Opera in summer 2022. Photo courtesy of Opéra de Montréal, Yves Renaud

Q&A with Sujari Britt

Sujari Britt performs the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations 8 p.m. August 6 at Seasongood Pavilion, Eden Park. She returns at 4 p.m. Aug. 8, Moonlite Pavilion, Coney Island for “Restorative Strings”

I caught up with rising star cellist Sujari Britt, who has been studying in Finland, via email in time to ask a few questions before she makes her Cincinnati debut with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra next weekend, Aug. 6 and 8.

Question: Please tell us a little bit about your musical journey. Why did you decide to study cello in Finland at the Sibelius Academy?

Answer: I began my cello travels at the age 4 after studying for a bit on piano and violin. At age 20, it is humbling to reflect that for the past decade-and-a-half I have devoted my time to exploring classical cello literature, techniques and approaches.

I believe it is time well-spent! I remain grateful for the incredible support and guidance of my early studies with Professor Marion Feldman (Manhattan School of Music, NYC). I met my current instructor, Professor Martti Rousi  (Sibelius Academy, Helsinki, Finland) when he visited MSM for a master class. We were mutually enthralled, and I am thoroughly enjoying my tenure at Sibelius.

Q: How have you gotten through the pandemic, with your studies and performances? 

A: COVID-19 has rocked our planet. The health crisis has been far-reaching in distance, and its impact likely will reverberate for time to come. Our world has shifted due to this illness. Across the globe we have suffered from loss, grief, fear, change. On one hand, COVID-19 surfaced the swirling of not knowing; distrusting, and feeling unsafe, uncertain, alone. For many, solitude, loneliness, and panic became our sole companions.

On another hand, the health crisis seemed to pummel us with warning of our need for each other; for kindness, truth, and humanity. I am fortunate to have toughed-out this pandemic in the company of friends, and in the presence of strangers who paused to notice our shared want.

When the pandemic began in earnest, I was on tour in the states. Having completed a few community events, a decision was made to postpone the main concert and remaining events to protect the audience and musicians. That was March 2020. I am thrilled for the upcoming concert with Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra to once again see eyes and know the ears, hearts, and minds that share the space of sound with me.  I look forward with hope.

Q: The CCO season shines a light on musicians and composers of color, as well as on women. How do you think concert programs and even classical music institutions are changing, or will change in the future?

A: I genuinely appreciate CCO’s focus on emerging representatives of our shared joy for the classics. To my mind, the wider we open the door, the braver will be the talent, and the deeper the joy at the shattering of glass ceilings.Read More »

CAM’s ‘Monuments Men’ is richly rewarding

A visitor views a photo wall with the Berlin 202 that toured America in the ’40s. Photo by Cliff Fennel

Cincinnati Art Museum’s “Paintings, Politics and the Monuments Men: The Berlin Masterpieces in America” (July 9-Oct. 3) is a fascinating, not-to-be-missed exhibition on several levels.  It explores the controversy of removing art that was patrimony of the German people after World War II. It tells the story of Cincinnati’s own “Monuments Man” Walter Farmer. It also tells the true story of the first blockbuster exhibition of European art to tour in America.

I attended the media preview last week, and of course, I was wowed by the star of the show, Botticelli’s “Vivid Portrait of a Lady.” Susan Stamberg did a lovely piece on NPR about her.

There is much more to ponder here, starting with four of the original paintings that toured America after the war and drew an unprecedented 2.5 million visitors.

My personal favorite was this 17th-century landscape by Philips Koninck, “Panorama of Holland,” on loan from the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. It was shown in all 14 stops of the US tour. You must stand there a while to drink it all in — the sunbreak in the threatening sky, the water ways and the little villages.

But there are so many other riches in this exhibition — a Watteau, a Titian, a Rubens. Then there is the remarkable story — and the excellent book that goes with the exhibition. Its authors and co-curators, Peter Jonathan Bell and Kristi A. Nelson, were there last week for a long-postponed opening. Of courses, the show was to have opened during the pandemic last year.

The co-curators Bell and Nelson share a moment/photo by Cliff Fennel

I plan to make several visits. Do go when the crowds are not large. You might also want to learn more in these special events:

Summer Teacher Institute July 13-15: Cincinnati Art Museum Calendar of Events – Cincinnati Art Museum

See the Story Book Club: Monuments Men by Bret Witter and Robert Edsel – July 17, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Join librarians from the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library and members of the Cincinnati Art Museum staff for this bi-monthly book club. You can check out the book, e-book, or audio book at CinLib.org/monuments-men

click here to join the discussion on July 17th at 11:30 a.m. Find out more here.

Art After Dark | A Monumental Celebration – July 30. 5-9 p.m. Free admission. Registration not required.  Enjoy live music from the Monday Night Big Band in the Alice Bimel Courtyard, swing dancing with Pones, food for purchase from Dewey’s Pizza, cash bars and free admission to special exhibition Paintings, Politics, and the Monuments Men. #ArtAfterDarkCincy

Monuments Men Symposium – September 24 (details to be announced)

More will likely be added to the calendar in September. Here’s the link.

Art Museum announces ‘special engagement’ weekends through January

Cincinnati Art Museum

Cincinnati Art Museum announced today it will be open to the public for special engagement days on the weekends in January (Jan. 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17, 23, 24, 30, 31). Hours will be 11 a.m.–5 p.m. each day.

Members will have special access each Friday starting Jan. 8 (continuing Jan. 15, 22, 29), as well as “Member Mornings” each Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.–11 a.m. The museum will not be open on New Year’s Eve or Day.

To ensure community wellness, limited hourly capacity remains reduced and advanced online registration is required. The museum will continue its safety policies requiring masks covering noses and mouths, and six feet of social distance between visitors. Increased cleaning and use of hospital-grade air filtration allow the museum to operate safely. The museum asks that all patrons limit their visit to two hours and ONLY visit with members of their own household.

This makes me happy, because yesterday — the last viewing day previously announced — I attended Frank Duveneck: American Masterwhich is set to run through March 28, 2021. With 90 works of art, it is a revelatory exhibition. Both comprehensive and beautifully organized, it also offers a personal view of the artist, including his friendships with other artists such as Whistler — featuring side-by-side works — the Duveneck Boys, his Art Academy students and especially with his wife, who died much too young.

It is a rare, sweeping look at Duveneck’s output in its only showing in America. (Due to Covid, it will not travel elsewhere after Cincinnati.) At CAM, it is the first major exhibition of Duveneck’s work in more than 30 years.

“The Three Boys” are together, perhaps for the first time

In a Q&A for the Business Courier, I asked curator Julie Aronson for some of her favorite works. This topped her list:

“Seeing the “three boys” hung together is going to be a great moment in the exhibition. “The Whistling Boy,” “The Cobbler’s Apprentice” from the Taft Museum of Art and “He Lives by his Wits,” still in a private collection, will be hung together.”Read More »

Museums shuttered due to Covid

The Taft Museum of Art’s annual holiday display, with Cynthia Lockhart

During the pandemic, our local museums have done a great job keeping visitors safe, with social distancing, hand sanitizer and mask-wearing. However, the current surge is just too dangerous for comfort. This week, the Taft Museum of Art and Contemporary Arts Center followed the lead of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and are closed indefinitely. (The Art Museum hopes to reopen on Dec. 15.)

Here’s the Taft/CAC joint statement:

Jointly, the Contemporary Arts Center and the Taft Museum of Art have made the decision to temporarily close to the public, effective Saturday, December 12, 2020 in light of Governor Mike DeWine’s announcement on December 10.

As Ohio continues to reach an exceedingly high number of COVID-19 cases, DeWine has
requested that individuals stay home unless necessary: “The next three weeks will really be
the most important three weeks for all of us in this pandemic,” adding, “We cannot afford, on
the very eve of a safe and effective vaccination, to further overwhelm our hospitals and health
care providers with a holiday tsunami.”

We will continue to remain closed to the public until further guidance from health and government officials.

This was a difficult decision, made in support of our community’s health, and based on DeWine’s recommendations that residents should only leave the home if necessary.

We know our institutions are among the safest places in the Cincinnati region, and we are
voluntarily and temporarily closing our doors to the public in the interest of broader community
health outside our walls. We are pleased we had the chance to safely allow the community the
chance to see and experience art in person, and we look forward for the chance to do so
again. At this time, all in-person programming will be temporarily suspended, but virtual
programming and offers will continue.

The Contemporary Arts Center and the Taft Museum of Art will continue to share updates on
COVID-19 to inform our staff, volunteers, and visitors of effects to operations and safety on
their respective websites: contemporaryartscenter.org and taftmuseum.org.

Art Museum closes for three weeks to promote wellness

Cincinnati Art Museum recently closed an important exhibition by Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal… ” This work is his “Guernica,” 2016. Mixed media, including sport jerseys.

Cincinnati Art Museum announced today that it is temporarily suspending in-person visitation to slow the spread of Covid-19.

The museum will take a “community health break in support of health care workers and Cincinnatians” starting tomorrow, Nov. 21, through Dec. 14.

The outdoor Art Climb will remain open, and CAM’s digital offerings will allow the community to stay engaged with the museum during this time.

Cameron Kitchin, Cincinnati Art Museum’s director, said the decision is voluntary, and that the museum considers it a responsibility to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“Community wellness, in all of its dimensions, is our guiding force at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Today’s decision is difficult, yet our museum is clear-eyed about our place in civic responsibility,” Kitchin said in a statement.

The museum intends to reopen in time for its big upcoming show, “Frank Duveneck: American Master,” opening on Dec. 18.Read More »

Cincinnati arts in top 20 of U.S. communities

CCO musicians performing at Pyramid Hill sculpture park, Hamilton
May Festival Chorus

A new report from the National Center for Arts Research names Cincinnati in the top 20 of large communities for arts vibrancy. The report takes “a data-driven approach to assessing characteristics that make up a community’s vibrancy rather than base the ranking on our own opinion about locations or on a popular vote.” Four measures were analyzed: supply, demand, and public support for arts and culture on a per capita basis.

It’s interesting that such a report would come out during a pandemic, when most arts organizations closed their doors in March, and have been struggling to survive ever since. The reason, the report says, it offers the report “as a celebration and reminder of the arts’ enduring importance, resiliency, and vibrancy.

“We should not forget the essential role that the arts play in fueling community development, emotional health, cultural literacy, social cohesion and integration, and creative expression. Ultimately, the communal nature of arts participation will be a strength to communities hungry to come together again and affirm existential meaning after prolonged isolation, trauma, and polarization.”

Indeed.Read More »

Chamber Orchestra announces lineup for Summermusik e-festival

CCO musicians performing at Pyramid Hill

In lieu of its usual month-long Summermusik festival, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra has 13 virtual events on tap to enjoy at home, Aug. 8 through Aug. 29.

The Silver-Garburg Piano Duo

Three will be three “live” events — online performances in real time, with stars including the Silver-Garburg Piano Duo, who wowed us in person at the festival in 2019 (Aug. 9); the superb young cellist Coleman Itzkoff, a Cincinnati native and CCO principal violist Heidi Yenney’s son (Aug. 16); and pianist Alon Goldstein, one of the stars of the 2017 festival (Aug. 23).

Those “eConcerts” will be hosted by music director Eckart Preu, and you’ll have a chance to ask questions.

Other events include “virtual watch parties” with local collaborators, a special WGUC Music Cincinnati Broadcast (Aug. 16), and “CCO2GO Rewind” events that were taped around the region earlier this summer.

Best of all, it’s all FREE. Access begins on Aug. 8th on the CCO’s website, ccocincinnati.org. Here’s the full lineup.Read More »

More closures: This time, the museums

Vincent Van Gogh, Undergrowth with Two Figures, at Cincinnati Art Museum — and also online. Image provided.

It’s not only the performing arts that are closing down operations. Today, Cincinnati’s three major art museums — Cincinnati Art Museum, the Contemporary Museum of Art and the Taft Museum of Art — sent out a joint statement that they will be closed through April 3.

Cincinnati Art Museum has suggestions for exploring art at home:

Explore Cincinnati Art Museum’s permanent collection artworks that have been digitized and are  available for viewing on our website.

There are also online exhibitions for you to view any time, any place.

Google Arts & Culture features many CAM artworks.

The museums hope you’ll explore their news and collections online at their respective websites, cincinnatiartmuseum.orgcontemporaryartscenter.org and taftmuseum.org.
At Cincinnati Museum Center: In the interests of guest health and safety, Cincinnati Museum Center will temporarily close effective Saturday, March 14. CMC will continue to monitor the developments around the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus and will evaluate a prudent date to reopen.

In addition, the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center will temporarily shut down its museum operations. The museum will close to the public on Saturday, March 14, through April 3. There are tentative plans to reopen the museum on April 4. The Holocaust & Humanity Center believes halting operations is the most effective way to safeguard guests and staff in response to the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus.

In memoriam Alice Weston

Alice Weston with one of her photographs, which I took in her home in 2012

Cincinnati lost a giant in the arts this week when Alice Weston, philanthropist and artist, passed away at age 93. Over the years, I interviewed Alice a number of times on a variety of topics, from her own extraordinary work in photography, shown above, to works she commissioned for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. One of my favorite interviews, though, was conducted with her cousin, Jane Ellis, about their experiences as children in the Philippines.Read More »