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Aston Magna: music, art, love, gore

By Leslie Kandell
Monday, July 19, 2010
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This season's Aston Magna early music series at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington concluded with a concert of "Music from the time of Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi." That would be the early 17th century. With the exception of Monteverdi, none of the composers are well known outside early music circles, and the slide show, used last year in a similar way for Goya, is an ingenious way to hold attention (pictured are Artemisia Gentileschi's "Self-portrait as a Lute Player," top, and Caravaggio's "Musicians").

Five instrumentalists and three female singers made numerous performing combinations possible. This year's music selections -- ornate, flowery love poems with music to match -- did not necessarily match the pictures. (The final image, by Gentileschi, was of two women graphically beheading an agonized sleeping man. I couldn't look.)

But most of the paintings depicted love (or lust), angels and music -- another plus. They skillfully captured Italy's wondrous countryside light, reminding the viewer of why painters and art students have always flocked there.

Hard times have compelled Aston Magna to eliminate program notes and substitute a pre-concert lecture. Had I known that, I would have been at the lecture and not left figuratively and literally in the dark, unable to read word sheets during the concert. (Titles of pieces -- in Italian -- appeared below the vibrant reproductions on the ample screen, but the players blocked them from front-row's view.)

The musicians performed impeccably. Compared to the civilized elegance (to which I see I referred last year) and high culture of this entertainment, the rest of life, when concert ended, looked sort of gross.

 
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