Mainly Mozart Festival XXIII: Opening Night and a Special Recognition

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This Saturday, May 21st, you’re invited to join us for Opening Night of the 23rd Edition of the Mainly Mozart Festival, where I will be honored with a special recognition for my contributions to the arts in South Florida.

The Mainly Mozart Festival XXIII features acclaimed pianist Sergei Babayan:

One of the most brilliant pianists of our time, Sergei Babayan’s performances are hailed for their emotional intensity, bold energy and remarkable levels of color. The legendary pianist Martha Argerich called her recent Mozart duo performance with Babayan: “The best Mozart I’ve ever played with anyone”.

As a highly sought after piano pedagogue, on faculty at the Juilliard School and the Cleveland Institute of Music, his students have won first prizes in world’s most challenging contests, such as the Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Cleveland Piano Competitions.

Sergei will make his Mainly Mozart Festival debut with a tour de force program of Bach’s Preludes and Fugues. In addition he will be joined by the festival’s artistic director and his former student at the Cleveland Institute of Music Marina Radiushina for a few Mozart and Bach duo piano selections.

Don’t miss this rare opportunity to experience Babayan’s artistry live! Click here to reserve your tickets to this special event.

Take a minute and enjoy watching a snippet of Frank Cooper and me reflecting on the founding of the Mainly Mozart Festival, its early days, legacy, and future. We founded the festival in 1993 as a direct influence of the impact of the Salzburg Music Festival in Austria, one of the most regarded classical music events held in the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Cooper Lecture Series to Precede Mainly Mozart Festival XXIII

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Frank Cooper, once described by the Miami Herald as “South Florida’s cultural maven,” will deliver in April and May a five-part lecture series titled MOZART: THE MAN – THE MUSIC.

The series at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, 260 Aragon Ave, scheduled to inaugurate at 7 PM on Tuesday, April 19 and to continue during the four following Tuesdays, is a  part of the Mainly Mozart Festival XXII – whose concerts  will be played from May 11 to July 1, 2016. The Cooper lectures are presented by the Miami Chamber Music Society, the Mozart Festival’s organizing organization, in cooperation with the Coral Gables Art Cinema.

The lecture series is Frank Cooper’s first in three years since he retired from the University of Miami as Professor Emeritus of Musicology. Professor Cooper says:

From his earliest years and until he died at 35, Mozart was the musical world’s most extraordinary, natural genius. His bizarre life and inexplicable perfect works provide the stuff of legend, the grist for biographers, and the material for movies. My plan is to offer audiences on Tuesday evenings in April and May the opportunity to learn the truths and the fictions surrounding this endlessly fascinating composer.

Pianist Marina Radiushina, the Mozart Festival’s Artistic Director, spoke enthusiastically about the series:

Professor Cooper’s reputation as one of Florida’s most  entertaining as well as informed public speakers would be a draw in itself, but his experience as co-founder with George Volsky of our Mozart Festival makes him a very special attraction.

Attorney Mike Eidson, president of the Chamber Music Society and one of the state’s most prominent arts activists, calls the forthcoming series “the first of its kind in the Festival’s 23-year history.” Lauding Professor Cooper’s musical knowledge  and his communication skills, shown in narrating last year’s still much-commented upon Dante-based Festival Finale at the Arsht Center, Eidson added: “Nobody engages the public the way Frank does. And nobody who loves music should miss attending his lectures.”

As Frank’s friend and collaborator in numerous cultural iniciatives for almost forty years, I am also looking forward to his lectures, and urge my friends and readers to attend and, because the CG Cinema sitting capacity is limited, to order tickets in advance.

For all the details, dates and ticketing, please go to:

Barber Violin Concerto – MCB’s Newest Hit

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Peter Martins, artistic director of New York City Ballet, choreographer of Barber Violin Concerto, must have felt proud of his work performed Friday night by four excellent dancers of the Miami City Ballet.

Martin, called to the stage of the Adrienne Arsht  Center to take bows with the dancers (and with Mei Mai Luo the Concerto’s  solo violin),  looked happy and rightfully so: the MCB’s Barber premiere – danced by Simone Messmer, Nathalia Arja, Rainer Krenstetter and Chase Swatosh – was an instant hit; one hopes it will be seen again soon.

Actually, the ballet, choreographed to the eponymous 1941 Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14 by Samuel Barber, consists of two parts: the longer first, serious, stately, athletically innovative with, importantly, a wail of mystery; the shorter second, simple, overtly and incongruously farcical.

Two couples: the classical one of Messmer paired with Krenstetter, and the modern one of Arja with Swatosh, (the latter couple bare-footed and Swatosh bare-chested), performed a series of intricate, sculptural pas de deux which enhanced the dancers’ balletic prowess and physical attraction. Exchanging partners and positions, the four dancers seemed to be constantly measuring one another, as young people often do on their first date. The beautifully coiffured Messmer projected aristocratic aloofness. Initially, she appeared disinterested in what could be – or were not entreaties of her equally cool Krenstetter.

(At one point later on, and quite unnecessarily, Messmer suddenly lets her hair lose to indicate a change of mind- which can be artistically done with more subtlety. Hopefully, for the next showing Martins will decide to forgo that trite device. A much-abused coup de théàtre, it is proper in Giselle when the ballerina loses her mind.)

The other, less interesting part of the Barber Violin Concerto, was an earthy, blatant effort by Arja to sexually conquer Krenstetter. He not only dislikes her, but actually tries to get rid of her in every way. But Arja is relentless; she persists and succeeds. At the end, she jumps landing on Krestetter’s shoulders; symbolically she strangles his head with a two-legged grip and, outstretching her arms like  Samothrace, silently shouts:  “I am the boss.”

George Balanchine’s La Source, the plotless ballet based on excerpts from several compositions by Léo Delibes, is not the choreographer’s finest oeuvre. Nor do I believe he wanted it to be.(He does not even mention it in his book “Balanchine’s New Complete Stories of of the Great Ballets.”)

But Balanchine, the most musical of all choreographers, liked the gentle ballet music of the 19th century French composer. He also knew better than most the history of ballet. Thus in La Source he was paying homage to the dance of France, the cradle of ballet.

While not a few people seeing Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty believe that the tsarist Russia created ballet, that form of art truly originated in French royal courts in the 15th century. A century later,  Louis XIV founded the world’s first professional ballet company, the Paris Opéra Ballet; to this day, the ballet vocabulary is all French.

In the 19th century, Russian composers and choreographers dramatized and to a degree professionally revolutionized ballet technique; they also added exotic plots and locations, elaborate scenery and costumes. The French ballet remained as a placid  expression of noblesse, only slightly different from what it was performed in pre-Revolutionary Versailles where it served basically to give pleasure to  the Sun King, and was a backdrop of the aimless Bourbon life style.

Balanchine’s La Source does not extoll the fame of Louis XIV, but I am sure that France’s most famous king, surrounded by hundreds of fawning aristocrats would have enjoyed watching its 11 dancers: two soloists, eight ballerinas and their leader.

Like the dancers of the preceding centuries, Balanchine’s ensemble moved elegantly on the stage, with small steps and tender demeanor, performing as it were  ballet class No. 1. The soloists – Tricia Albertson and Renato Penteado seemed underwhelmed by their task. Perhaps a couple of talented corps de ballet dancers would have injected more verve and passion into their parts. And the public seemed pleased – that’s what counts in the program’s beginning.

It is no secret that I am not enamored of the night’s last  ballet, Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room,  choreographed to the eponymous composition by Philip Glass.  Pointing out  that a number of people, including at least one famous ballet critic, feel the same, I recently asked one of the company “barons” why does MCB, with its wealth of ballets “in storage,” keep presenting Upper Room. His reply: “Because young people like it.” Friday night it did not seem so to me.

There are several questions about Upper Room. Why, for example, does the highly repetitive, melody-free composition – which some call respectively “elevator music” – merit a balletic treatment, and a boring one at that? Hard as I have tried, giving Tharp every benefit of the doubt, I could not find any real meaning in Upper Room. I  don’t find meaningful observing a bunch of sneaker-clad youngsters aimlessly jumping, twisting and turning like high school students whose basketball team won a game against a hated opponent.

Then, why did Tharp divide the ballet into nine “acts”? The dancing steps in all of them seems the same except for the number of performers in each. And why not cut the repetitious Upper Room by half, perhaps making it more palatable?

As for the public liking  Upper Room,  last Friday few people applauded its individual “acts.”  The applause was general when the ballet ended, I believe because we could plainly see that 16 MCB dancers did the best they could with a pointless material, and because we commiserated with these very talented artists.

Mainly Mozart’s June 21st Finale: “Must-Attend Concert”

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The Mainly Mozart Festival’s June 21 Grand Finale at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall is a “must-attend even” for every music lover of our area. Having observed, written about and participated in Miami Dade County’s artistic life for more than 50 years, I can attest that nothing approaching the concert’s intellectual sophistication had ever been attempted here before.

The Sunday, June 21, 4 p.m. presentation represents a rightful and splendid progression in the history of Mainly Mozart; simply put, it has elevated the Festival to another, loftier artistic level. Twenty two years ago, when Prof. Frank Cooper and I launched Mainly Mozart, our musical rationale, which we followed for the consecutive eighteen years was:

Mozart is our centerpiece. The genius, whose life began in Salzburg and ended in Vienna, was a catalyst in determining not only the full development of what we now call the Classical Style of music but also in establishing a standard of quality in form and expression which only other geniuses in subsequent generations were able to approach. Thus, Mozart and his musical legacy continue as the focus of these annual events.

The Miami Chamber Music Society, presided over by Mike Eidson with the internationally-acclaimed concert pianist Marina Radiushina as  Musical Director, a few years ago began presenting Mainly Mozart. It has rightfully expanded the Festival’s original leitmotif. After all, over the last two centuries composers everywhere have admired the Salzburg-born genius who, in his short life, authored close to 600 works of pristine tone and unfathomed emotional depth, yet who was buried as pauper in an unmarked Vienna grave. One of those composers was Franz Liszt.

Admirably, this year’s Mozart Festival pays tribute to Liszt and another genius: Dante Alighieri, writer, father of the modern Italian language and poet. His trilogy, the Divine Comedy, is considered one of the greatest works of world literature. Therefore, celebrating Dante’s 750th birthday, the June concert will feature Franz Liszt’s Dante Symphony.

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Election Analysis: Mayor Wins As Crime Wave Scare Tactic Backfires on Opponents

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This city needs a rest – and a self-examination – after one of the most unprincipled campaigns in recent history, with Mayor Jim Cason decisively winning his second reelection.

The campaign was unscrupulous and unethical because voters were systematically frightened with a “crime wave.” It was fabricated with false statistics and Cason was the only one blamed for this imaginary social ill. The lie was eventually exposed. Still, by constant repetition part of it was registered in the minds of some voters. The promoters of such lies, even when caught red-handed, are seldom punished. They live on to produce similar falsehoods again and again.

The scare tactics were employed against Cason by his second-time opponent, former commissioner Ralph Cabrera. Not coincidently, the same ploy was also used by Cabrera, in his first unsuccessful effort to unseat Cason. Importantly, the crime scare lie fabricators were also the same.

The crime “brains trust,” said observers recalling the 2013 race, resides in an organization called “Gables Good Government Commission,” created over five years ago, basically to further political and general interests of what residents call the “Don Slesnick Family Enterprise.” While Cabrera, called its political tool, lost twice, Jeannett Slesnick, reportedly the principal of the family cabal, on Tuesday won a seat on the commission. Her winning margin was 32.04 percent. With the high negatives, which her husband’s decade-long mayoralty still evoked, she only prevailed because Coral Gables does not have a run-off election of the two first round highest vote-getters, an archaic electoral system that ought to be changed.

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Miami City Ballet Upholds Balanchine World Supremacy

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Last weekend, the Miami City Ballet triumphantly ended its 2014-2015 season. It was the best performance of the year, and an excellent augury for the next season which will mark the 30th anniversary of the company’s creation.

Importantly, the performance accentuated an artistic fact: the MCB continues at the top of the world’s best interpreters of Balanchine. I write this without reservations. It is because Friday night’s piece de resistance was the world premiere of the eminently Balanchinesque Heatscape, the mind-riveting work of the 27-year-old Justin Peck. In addition, the company also masterfully performed Balanchine’s Raymonda Variations, choreographed with excerpts from Raymonda, composed in 1898 by Alexander Glazunov for Marius Petipa’s famous eponymous ballet.

Heatscape, whose music is the 1925 little known but powerful Concerto N. 1 for Piano and Orchestra by the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu, is a complex, spellbinding oeuvre. More often than not, the abstract ballet moves so fast that even with the great deal of attention paid to the energetic and scintillating cast, many of Heatscape’s intriguing nuances are gone before a mind can appreciate and analyze them.

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Cason’s Gravitas Wins Him the Debate

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Last night’s mayoral debate, a confrontation between Mayor Jim Cason and his repeated challenger, former commissioner Ralph Cabrera, did not, for me, change anything. It will not to be a surprise to the readers of this column when I say that I support Cason for mayor in the April 14 election. I did it two years ago when his reelection bid was also contested by Cabrera, and in 2011 when his principal opponent was former mayor Don Slesnick.

In 2011, the Slesnick electoral machine was out in force supporting Cabrera. That cabal, as many people call it, was humiliated more than Cabrera by his unprecedented trouncing. This time the “Slesnickites” are less visible in Ralph’s corner because they have three other candidates to support and fund.

These are: 1. Jeannett Slesnick who practically at the 11th hour decided to run for commissioner in Group 5; 2. Ariel Fernandez, a candidate in the same group, whose campaign was badly shaken last week by the disclosure that he had hidden from his pre-election political résumé two years of his life when he was a top aide of the former U.S. congressman David Rivera, said to be under criminal investigation by the FBI; 3. Enrique Lopez – a close ally of the Slesnicks and a very close friend of the disgraced city manager David Brown – who wants to replace Commissioner Frank Quesada. (Quesada and Lopez will debate March 16, and all 10 candidates again March 30.)

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City Ballet Continues Echt-Alanchinesque

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Before the Miami City Ballet’s presented last weekend its Program II, which included George Balanchine’s monumental Symphony In Three Movements, some balletomanes were apprehensive. “With so many new dancers,” one of them asked, “will the MCB maintain its world-recognized expertise in the Balanchine style?”

They were concerned because half of the MCB’s 33-member corps de ballet joined the company in the last eighteen months. And corps de ballets are the bases on which the scaffolds of virtually all of Balanchine’s works are built, and training dancers his technique is exacting and time consuming.

They needn’t have worried. To the credit of the MCB’s Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez and her staff the ensemble danced Symphony – not a facile work to perform – with authority and aplomb, in a way that one imagines Balanchine would have unreservedly applauded.

On Friday night it appeared that the physical and spiritual idiom of the genius choreographer permeated the energetically athletic performance of 32 dancers. All of them were in constant movement, except for a slight respite during a short but innovative, unromantic pas de deux. They followed, almost step by step, as someone once said the jazzy, angular lines, mordant rhythms and piquant harmonies of Igor Stravinsky.

Stravinsky, a close friend of Balanchine, composed the eponymous music between 1942 and 1945. By choreographing Symphony in 1972 Balanchine honored his compatriot friend one year after the composer’s death.

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Coral Gables Electoral Race – All Ahead, Go!

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The race is on. With less than 100 days to our April 14 election, money is pouring into the coffers of a half dozen candidates for three city elected positions: the mayor and two commissioners. The flood of campaign propaganda, now a permanent pre-election feature, is about to begin arriving by post.

Cash on hand will be an important electoral factor. And there could be more money to spend than two years ago: the maximum legal campaign donation, then $500, is now $1,000. Quite possibly also, at least according to some City Hall political experts, the names on the ballot might increase to eight.

In the mayoral race, incumbent Jim Cason is seeking his third term. Under the city charter, mayors can serve four consecutive two-year terms. Cason says the third will be his last. The retired but still very sprite U.S. ambassador who entered Coral Gables politics after 40 years in the foreign service, is again being challenged by former city commissioner Ralph Cabrera. Termed out in 2013, following his 12-year commissioner service (commissioners can serve only three consecutive four-year terms), Cabrera contested Cason two years ago and was trounced. Cason obtained 71 percent of the vote and Cabrera the rest. In that relatively high attendance election 23.1 percent of the eligible residents went to the polls. Ten years earlier only about 16 percent did.

Cabrera, his friends say, expects to do much better this time. Most impartial observers don’t know what “ better” it might be. “Even the 60 to Cason 40 victory would be a landslide,” one old-time resident said.

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FBI Audit Verifies Coral Gables Police Reporting

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation, following a recent week-long inspection of this city’s Police Department documents, has stated that its “findings did not reveal any underreported burglary offenses.”

This assertion was conveyed in the Oct. 20, 2014 letter by John H. Herbas, Section Chief, Law Enforcement Support Section, Criminal Justice Information, Services Division, U.S. Department of Justice, to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It was though the FDLA that, on September 9, the Coral Gables Police Chief Edward J. Hudak requested an FBI audit of his department’s crime reporting.

The letter became public record after Chief Hudak, on Dec. 3, submitted it and supplementary documemts to the former Interim City Manager Carmen Olazabal.

Hudak’s request was motivated by allegations of several Coral Gables residents that to minimize the Coral Gables crime scene the city police has been underreporting burglaries in its reports to the FDLA and the FBI. The allegations, voiced at City Commission meetings have found resonance in some Miami-Dade media outlets, which featured statements by burglary victims who questioned police crime statistics showing that crime in the city has actually declined.

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