NEW YORK – A visit to New York is always something special. I was there recently
for a knee replacement.
Some days later, armed with analgesics and a
walker, I was privileged to partake in the cultural extravaganza. Limited space
does not allow me to do full justice to all the events, but here are a few
The Frick Collection
The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis
in The Hague is currently undergoing renovation, and it has loaned the Frick 15
What a treasure trove! They date from the 17th century, the
Dutch Golden Age. These paintings were purchased by wealthy citizens and
comprise portraits, still lifes and landscapes, as well as biblical and genre
Possibly the most dramatic painting is The Goldfinch by Carel
Fabritius, a most talented artist and pupil of Rembrandt. His life was
tragically cut short by a gunpowder explosion that destroyed much of Delft. The
brilliant trompe l’oeil effects in this unique gem are
Another eye-catcher is Rembrandt’s Susanna. According to the
Book of Daniel, the virtuous Susanna was spied upon by two Babylonian elders
while taking a bath.
This is one of art’s supreme examples of voyeurism.
The unfortunate Susanna, desperately trying to shield her body, is not idealized
but the anguish on her face is readily evident as the two elders leer in the
background. Another three stunning paintings by Rembrandt are also part of the
Pride of place, however, goes to Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a
Pearl Earring. The pensive, enigmatic girl is one of the great icons of Western
art and is the Dutch equivalent of the Mona Lisa. The sitter remains
unidentified and thus the painting is a tronie, representing an idealized
Ironically, this painting was purchased in 1881 for less that
Other masterpieces from the Mauritshuis include those by Hals, Steen,
ter Borch and van Ruisdal, among others. The Dutch exhibit complements the
Frick’s three genre scenes by Vermeer, as well as its rich trove of paintings by
Rembrandt, Hals and other Dutch masters.
Runs through January 19,
Morgan Library and Museum
Here one is privileged to see another
iconic portrait, Head of a Young Woman by Leonardo da Vinci. This metal point
drawing served as a study for the angel in da Vinci’s great painting, The Virgin
of the Rocks, and has been described by art historian Kenneth Clark as one of
the most beautiful drawings in the world. It is part of the collection from
Turin’s Biblioteca Reale, which also showcases di Vinci’s Codex on the Flight of
Birds. Of particular interest are the artist’s annotations in his left-handed,
backward mirror script.
Runs through February 2, 2014.
view are two handwritten manuscript scores of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. The
first, on loan from the Juilliard Collection, contains annotations and markings
by the composer’s hand and is said to have been used by Beethoven as he stood
before the orchestra for the symphony’s first performance. This score was used
by the printer to prepare the first edition from which all further copies were
made. The second score belongs to the Royal Philharmonic Society, which
commissioned the work. To see firsthand these original copies of Beethoven’s No.
9, one of the towering masterpieces of Western civilization, was a humbling
Also on display is the first edition of the complete Hebrew
Bible, comprising the Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim, which was published in 1488 by
the Soncino family and is the Hebrew equivalent of the Gutenberg
The New York Historical Society
New York’s oldest museum has
mounted “The Armory Show at 100” to celebrate the centenary of this seminal
event. The Armory Show was one of the most important art exhibits ever held in
the US, since it introduced European avant-garde to America. It opened in New
York in February 1913 and approximately 87,000 people attended the one-month
The Historical Society has reunited more than 100 paintings of the
original 1,350 works displayed.
Half the artists in the original show
were American. European artists represented included Brancusi, Braque, Cezanne,
Degas, Duchamp, Gauguin, Lautrec, Matisse, Munch, Picasso, Picabia, Renoir,
Rousseau and van Gogh.
The bestselling artist was Odilon
Many of the paintings exhibited in 1913 were new and
unconventional, and provoked derision from critics and the public alike. Marcel
Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) was regarded as the most
scandalous of all, and attracted the most attention. Matisse’s Blue Nude,
considered today as one of the prized paintings in the Baltimore Museum of Art,
was also regarded as primitive and depraved.
A scholarly catalogue
accompanies the exhibit.
Runs through February 23, 2014.
Modern Art (MOMA)
“Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938” exhibit
includes many humorous, thought-provoking works of this great surrealist. His
paintings challenge classical visual perceptions of reality by defamiliarizing
the familiar. I was struck by one painting in particular, La Reproduction
Interdite (Not to be Reproduced), a brilliant take on the role of the mirror in
Jan van Eyck in his Arnolfini portrait, and Velazquez in his
Las Meninas and Rokeby Venus, accurately depicted the mirror images of those
sitting for them. Manet, in his A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, used Impressionist
brushstrokes to convey the reflected mirror image.
Magritte takes it a
step further. A sitter should see his own face when looking at a mirror;
instead, he sees the back of his head.
Runs through January 12,
The exhibit, “Vasily Kandinsky: From Blaue Reiter to
the Bauhaus, 1910-1925,” highlights more then 80 works and includes paintings,
drawings and decorative materials.
It is drawn from the Neue Galerie’s
own collection, with generous loans from major museums and private collections.
Key works by Kandinsky’s contemporaries including Gabriele Munter, Franz Marc
and Paul Klee, among others, are also on display.
The exhibit traces the
development of the artist over this 15-year period. Born in Moscow, Kandinsky
only began painting at the age of 30 when he settled in Munich. It was there
that he and his colleagues formed Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) movement.
The name was coined by Franz Marc, who loved horses, and Kandinsky, who had an
infatuation with the color blue as well as riders. Kandinsky’s paintings from
this period were initially romantic and expressionistic with rainbow colors. He
gradually abandoned this free dynamic brushwork and representation altogether,
creating a completely non-objective style.
With the outbreak of World War
I, Kandinsky returned to Russia, where he devoted his time to teaching. In 1921,
Kandinsky joined the Bauhaus school in Weimar.
It was here that he
developed his geometric style, which evolved into pure abstraction. Kandinsky
was much influenced by music, particularly by that of Arnold Schoenberg, and he
often used musical terms such as improvisations, fugues and compositions to
identify his works.
Kandinsky believed that art, music and theater, the
so-called Gesamtkunstwerk (Total Work of Art), were all connected. Central to
the exhibition is a special reconstruction of Kandinsky’s lost murals for the
Juryfreie Kunstschau (Jury Free Art Show), held in Berlin in 1922. This project
was designed by Kandinsky and executed by his Bauhaus students.
through February 10, 2014.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
The curators have
mounted a small show titled “Kandinsky in Paris, 1933-1944,” drawn from their
large permanent collection.
When the Nazis took over, Kandinsky’s art was
confiscated and displayed in the infamous “Degenerate Art” exhibit mounted by
the Nazis. In 1938, Kandinsky elected not to renew his German passport and moved
to France, where he settled in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-Sur-Seine. Here
his palette changed yet again, and biomorphic forms with non-geometric outlines
appeared in his paintings, often with softer pastel hues.
Kandinsky exhibits, situated three city blocks apart, beautifully complement
each other and cover much of the artist’s output.
last few years, the incomparable Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff has been
exploring the keyboard oeuvre of Johann Sebastian Bach. This concert at Carnegie
Hall represented the climax of the endeavor, and featured a deeply probing
account of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. This was followed by Beethoven’s
Variations on a theme of Anton Diabelli.
Stripped to its basic element, a
simple theme, it is a marvel to see how Beethoven produced a work of such
The audience who stayed the course were then rewarded with
the encore, an incandescent performance of the second movement of Beethoven’s
final piano sonata, Op. 111, which is also a set of variations.
these supreme keyboard masterpieces in a single recital is a prodigious feat,
and was a testament to the pianist’s stamina and consummate skill. This recital,
which lasted over three hours, took place two days after the New York City
Marathon and was a marathon in itself. Because of the racist policies of the
current Hungarian regime, Schiff has elected not to return or perform in his
Iván Fischer, the imaginative Hungarian conductor, led the
Orchestra of St. Luke’s in a performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto with
soloist Jonathan Biss.
Soloist and conductor succeeded in bringing out
all the subtle details of the score, and gave a magisterial account of the
The concert also included Bartók’s Hungarian Sketches and Leó
Weiner’s Serenade for Small Orchestra, both based on Hungarian folk melodies.
Weiner was a Jewish composer and his serenade had sweeping romantic themes,
which were well-captured by conductor and orchestra.
Fischer is an
accomplished Mozartian, and his semi-staged performances of Don Giovanni and The
Marriage of Figaro have received accolades. His affinity with Mozart was readily
apparent in the scintillating account of the composer’s final symphony,
“Jupiter.” Conductor and orchestra brilliantly captured the contrapuntal details
of the final movement.
Unlike Schiff, Fischer who is the music director
of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, remains a resident of Hungary. The Red
Heifer, an opera which Fischer composed, recently premiered in Budapest. It is
based on an anti-Semitic blood libel.
Established in 1842,
the New York Philharmonic Orchestra is indeed a phenomenon. During the season,
week after week, it performs subscription series. I was privileged to attend
their 15,630th concert. Which orchestra can compete with this? The clarity and
brilliance of strings, woodwind, brass and percussion is probably
Theirs is not an easy task. Carnegie Hall is continually
hosting visiting national and international orchestras. To perform at Carnegie
is the highlight on any orchestra’s calendar, and all give it their
The New York Philharmonic must compete with all this, and is
I heard this great orchestra under their music
director, Alan Gilbert, in a concert which also showcased their concertmaster,
Glenn Dicterow, who is resigning at the end of the season. The rendering of
Richard Strauss’s tone poems “Don Juan” and “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” was
electrifying and impassioned.
Christopher Rouse’s Oboe Concerto also
featured. Rouse, the philharmonic’s composer-in-residence, makes great demands
on the soloist but Liang Wang, principal oboist of the philharmonic, played with
flair and brilliance, successfully capturing the rhythm and color of this
At another New York Philharmonic concert, Matthew Muckey, the
associate principal trumpeter, proved to be an outstanding soloist in Bach’s
Cantata No. 51 and “Let the Bright Seraphim” from Handel’s oratorio “Samson.” He
accompanied soprano Miah Persson in these two works. The program also included
Mozart’s “Requiem.” Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie propelled his forces,
giving a dramatic taut account.
Of the soloists, the most impressive were
mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe and Persson. The exceptional New York Choral
Artists played a crucial role in ensuring the success of this
Another memorable event at Avery Fischer Hall was the annual
Richard Tucker Gala. This year’s event was especially noteworthy, since 2013 is
the centennial of this great tenor. Gala events are often just happenings
without much depth or substance. Not this one! The vocal soloists were all
topnotch singers, most of whom had been recipients of the Richard Tucker Award,
sponsored by the Richard Tucker Music Foundation.
This year’s awardee,
the lovely mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, gave a winning account of a little-
known aria from Vivaldi’s “Griselda.” She showed charisma and was a highly
communicative singer. Up-and-coming soprano Angela Meade gave a remarkable
rendition of an aria from Verdi’s early opera, I due Foscari. Another absolute
showstopper was Joyce DiDonato, in a dramatic aria from Rossini’s La donna del
lago. She has firmly established herself as one of the great Rossini
interpreters of our time.
Other contributors to the most successful
evening included Blythe, Renee Fleming, Susan Graham, Ailyn Perez, Stephen
Costello, Greer Grimsley, Eric Jones and Matthew Polenzani. Soloists were
well-supported by Riccardo Frizza, conducting members of the Metropolitan Opera
The writer, an emeritus professor of medicine, writes, reviews
and lectures on medical topics, music, art, history and travel
(www.irvingspitz.com). He was recently recognized with the Sidney H. Ingbar
Distinguished Service Award by the Endocrine Society for his contributions to
the field. His photograph album can be viewed at www.
he may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.