Music without Borders, Especially Considering Talent

I cannot think of a place I’ve visited where everyone I met was authentically generous and welcoming. Until my visit to Bethel, Maine, two weeks ago, that is. I was so genuinely impressed with how I was treated that I feel I have come away with a new community of friends. I will definitely return, hopefully to see the bucolic town covered in a blanket of snow.

My incredible food experiences included dinners at SS Milton, the Black Diamond Steakhouse, The Jolly Drayman Pub, The Millbrook Tavern and Grille at The Bethel Inn, 22 Broad Street, The Mill Hill Inn, and The Sudbury Inn. After dinner at Scott Davis’ Sudbury, the magnanimous host invited me; Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Robin Zinchuk; and Amanda Smith, co-owner of Nabos, to a remarkable event, which takes place at Gould Academy in Bethel each summer. Music without Borders brings its International Piano Festival to town and this year was its sixth incarnation.

Veselin “Vesko” Ninov, Kelia Ingraham and Mark Demidovich.

As you can see from the video I took that evening, the pianists are of remarkable talent. What also may occur to you is that they are quite young for the level of ability they have achieved. The prodigies of Tamara Poddubnaya visit Bethel for three weeks each summer to study with the lauded solo pianist and chamber musician, who is currently a professor at and head of the piano department at the Long Island Conservatory, and a visiting professor at the Portland Conservatory of Music. They ranged in age from 13 to 24 this year and hailed from diverse countries, including Russia, the Netherlands and the United States.

Performing the evening I attended were Kelia Ingraham, Mark Demidovich and Veselin “Vesko” Ninov. The video is of Ninov performing Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12” in C-sharp minor. As the notes flowed into the room, I was inspired to try to capture the experience in words so I could translate how it felt to have the experience. Here are the riffs that flowed from my pen as the notes poured into the small theater:

Tamara Poddubnaya with prodigies Veselin “Vesko” Ninov, Kelia Ingraham and Mark Demidovich.

Those soft refrains bring joy to the lips of the chords. The upper body sways as the music ebbs and flows, the arms lifted as if in a ballet of sound. Eyes closed, a smile, then a creased forehead when the music grows serious. As the whimsical rhythms come, eyes open, head swaying, not in a refusal but in the loving gesture one shows to a serious moment of emotional impact.

When the music slows, the last chords leak into the room like fireflies dancing on a summer night or fairies flitting across an azure sky. Marching. Scampering. Sprightly. Then death knell, followed by the relief of gentle notes lifting sound to serenity. Chaos. Keys bluntly ordered into submission by strong, nimble fingers. Ah, breezy riffs of melody. How can staccato be interwoven with high-tinged wanderings so perfectly?

The softest notes seem to hang in the air and pauses are built for the sounds to linger, the piano’s voice gleefully loving the opportunity to dally. Then marching notes return, signaling a change in mood. The staccato melody is a volley unleashed to make one fall in love with reverberation. And so I did! Bravo, I say!


A Taste of Maine

I attended a wonderfully executed event held by Visit Maine earlier this month, which has me dreaming up some idyllic summer plans. The food during the evening at the St. Regis Hotel was delicious, and the wine crisp and clean juxtaposed against the rich flavors of crab, clams and lobster.

I’ll be sharing news here about treks to Ogunquit, where I will visit The Cliff House, as well as other wonderful venues in the seaside town. Then I’ll hightail it to the mountains to a charming spot on the hem of the White Mountain National Forest to a town called Bethel. I can’t wait to peruse the architecture of the quaint village, which will be celebrating its centennial next year.

I’ll be taking a day-trip to Cape Elizabeth to see how the eco-friendly initiatives being supported by Inn by the Sea are going. I will always have a soft spot for the wonderful resort perched on the edge of Crescent Beach Sate Park and Seal Cove. I’m especially keen to see their Bunny Habitat Restoration, which they are undertaking in collaboration with the Maine Department of Conservation and the Parks Department, as they take steps to restore the habitat for the endangered New England Cottontail rabbit.

My head was swimming with thoughts of fun escapades when I left that evening—cultural events at the Stonington Opera House and the Maine Maritime Museum, along with the sounds of the Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival caught my eye; a sand-nestled cottage from Seaside Vacation Rentals in York, and news of Amtrak’s Downeaster expanding northward to Brunswick rounded out the exploratory legwork I am hoping will take me far away from the steamy cement of NYC this summer!


The Rebel as Poet

By the Table; Verlaine is far left and a young Rimbaud is seated facing him.

“By the Table”; Verlaine is far left and a young Rimbaud is seated facing him.

During my time in Paris, I visited the Musée d’Orsay, drinking in the architecture of the former railway station from blocks away (and understanding why the museum bills the building, which was erected for the Universal Exhibition of 1900, as its first work of art). The locale on the banks of the Seine opposite the Tuileries Gardens is its second triumph. And its art collections, spanning from 1848 to 1914, is its pièce de résistance.

One painting in particular was pilgrimage-worthy for me: Henri Fantin-Latour’s By the Table. I’ve been fascinated with it since I can remember because the subjects in the composition are men gathered at the Salon of 1872, including Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud—an almost cherubic Rimbaud sitting facing his friend at the time. It was Verlaine, a more mature poet, who would eventually contribute to Rimbaud’s disillusionment, causing him to put down his pen at the age of 20. What a loss for poetry! One of my favorite quotes has been attributed to Rimbaud, though I have never managed to track down the source: “I’d rather be the poem than the poet,” he was reported to have said. I feel that sums up the level of dedication a true poet would have to his or her craft.

If you’ve never read Rimbaud’s story, it’s worthwhile. He didn’t have an easy life, and he wrote what he produced at such a young age, I can only imagine the quality of work he would have produced had he been writing as a mature poet. A great place to start if you also happen to like rock-n-roll is Wallace Fowlie’s book Rimbaud and Jim Morrison: The Rebel as Poet. He compares the two renegades who did share a passion for stirring things up. I give you Rimbaud’s “Sensation,” a poem he wrote in March of 1870, nearly a century and a half ago:

Through blue summer nights I will pass along paths,

Pricked by wheat, trampling short grass:

Dreaming, I will feel coolness underfoot,

Will let breezes bathe my bare head.

Not a word, not a thought:

Boundless love will surge through my soul,

And I will wander far away, a vagabond

In Nature—as happily as with a woman.

Arthur Rimbaud

And as Morrison says in “L.A. Woman”: …Midnight alleys roam…


Happy Birthday, Roaming by Design!

Roaming by Design is one year old today! Who better than to serenade us into the next year than The Beatles (weren’t they adorable then)? We hope you will stay tuned for all the shenanigans to come for year number two. We promise it won’t be boring!!!!!

Did you know there is an app for that? The Little Black Songbook on iTunes.


Dig Yourself, Brighton!

Aubrey Beardsley’s Salome, 1894

I’ve been exploring Brighton, England, the past few days and have had a blast getting to know this terrific seaside town. I was so surprised how easy it was to get here: just a bit over an hour by train thanks to Rail Europe’s excellent handling of my itinerary. It’s such an interesting mix of the artful, the commercial and the soulful (with the ocean churning below a moisture-infused sky etched in soft gray, the elemental is ever-present and powerful).

I’ve been learning about the history of the place–the Pavilion with its quirky royal secrecy, the abundance of fresh seafood, and Brighton’s famous residents. One of my favorite artists was born here (Aubrey Beardsley, whose Salome was drawn in 1894) and a very talented musician that I’ve had a longstanding love/hate relationship with (I either love or hate Nick Cave’s music: there’s really no in-between). Thought I’d share one of my loves with you as I say goodbye to Brighton tomorrow morning and head back to the U.S. “I don’t know what it is but there’s definitely something going on upstairs!”


Sax & the City: the Musical

Dead Can Dance lead singers Brendan Perry & Lisa Gerrard.

Sax in the City is stuck at the computer today so I thought I’d throw a question out to those of you who find yourselves in the same situations. I’m working on the last four chapters of a book project I’ve been writing for a client for the past several years (chapter 19 is coming along nicely and chapter 20 should be finished by the end of the day).

The book is an intense one, about an American family captured and tortured in Nicaragua in the 1970s during the insurgency there. I find I need some music to get me through the tough material but when I write, it’s tough for me to listen to music with lyrics (or at least English lyrics that I can understand) because they distract my mind from the words I need to be putting on the page.

This means I’ve cultivated a number of instrumental playlists that whisk me along during the process, one of which is Dead Can Dance. I especially like their album “Spiritchaser,” but “Toward the Within” is also an excellent one.

Below is their “Rakim,” a song from the latter album. I hope it brightens your weekend a bit. I’d love to know your favorite playlists for weekends stuck at your desk (or weekdays for that matter). If you’re lucky enough to be out roaming, what’s blasting through your earphones right now?


How Deluded Can You Be?

Laurie Anderson is one with the violin

Laurie Anderson is one with the violin

Sax in the City was out and about last night, trekking with good pals Susan Wilber and Sarah Frazier to the Harvey Theater last night to see Laurie Anderson perform Delusion as part of the Brooklyn Art Museum’s 2010 Next Wave Festival. “What are the last words you say before you turn to dirt?” Anderson intoned during the hour-and-a-half-long meditation on life and language that was originally commissioned by the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad and the Barbican Bite 10 Festival in London.

In her Brooklyn incarnation of the production, Anderson held sway over the audience with her hypnotic voice; explosive visual effects; emotionally charged content and sometimes volatile, sometimes haunting music.

The petite performer shepherded everyone through a jostling journey that extended from Kierkegaard’s premise that life is more interesting lived backward to a riff on how women can always get away with playing the “crying card”; something we are due, she remarked, because we are constantly losing our last names. “Marriage, divorce, marriage,” she chanted, noting how the lost last name that once established our identities becomes the ubiquitous password. “When men pull out the crying card, it’s [pause] awkward!” she crooned.

There was an archetypal resonance to the material: “What happens when a man outlives his god?” she asks; and the performance was littered with death. “They say you die three times,” she parries at one point: “when your heart stops; when you’re buried or cremated; and the last time someone says your name.” There were tears in the audience as she careened toward the end of the performance, her last entreaty a question for her mother: “Did you ever really love me?” The visual effects were stunning—dwarfing her as she moved about the stage segueing from voice to violin back to voice.

I’ve been a fan of hers since the 1980s and still listen to her album “Strange Angels” so it was a blessing to see her perform in person.